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‘The people have been through hell’: Charity medic leads team to Eswatini

By Louise Glen

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Surgeon Andy Kent...Picture: Gary Anthony..
Surgeon Andy Kent...Picture: Gary Anthony..

A mercy mission to a south African nation has been hailed as a success for an Inverness orthopaedic surgeon.

Andy Kent, who works at Raigmore Hospital, said he was pleased to be able to lead a UK Emergency Medical Team (EMT) to Eswatini, oon behalf of charity UK Med, to help them in their fight against Covid.

The 11-strong team worked at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital in Manzini, the Covid-19 Treatment Centre at Mavuso, and four other medical centres, with urgent specialist training to help treat critically ill Covid-19 patients.

Mr Kent, from Inverness, said the battle against the virus was not over, and people in Scotland should continue to be cautious when mixing and remain socially isolated as much as possible.

Mr Kent said: "The people of Eswatini have been through hell. A large number of nurses and doctors had contracted Covid, and the oxygen levels were down to 50 per cent of what was needed in the country. It was a humanitarian emergency.

"The World Health Organisation (WHO) had put out an emergency call for medics to go to Eswatini to help them clinically manage the high volume of Covid cases in the country.

"Like many parts of the world, a relaxing of Covid rules over Christmas had with it brought a higher case load that was manageable. Not only in Eswatini but also in surrounding countries.

"During the same period the prime minister of the country and three government ministers died. It was a terrible time. I was asked to lead a team, with 10 others to go out and help with cases. With the permission of NHS Highland I was given permission to go to help them.

"However, when we got there the cases had started to drop again. But, and I don't want to sound at all like the great white man with all the knowledge, there were some things that we were able to share with medics in the country that would help them survive a third surge of the virus when it comes.

"Eswatini is a very poor country of around 1.2million people. It has one of the highest HIV/AIDS populations in the world, for example 40 per cent of all pregnant women are HIV positive."

Mr Kent, three other medics from the UK, and seven from other regions in Africa set about "constructing a training plan" that would help bring what has been learned in other countries to Eswatini. The training plan includes not only information on clinical practice but also on the use of PPE and health messages around washing hands and social distancing.

In fact, the UK-EMT deployment to Eswatini saw 61 training sessions conducted which trained 294 staff and provided 189 hours of clinical supervision

He said: "We also looked at securing funding to build the country's own oxygen plants, so that in future it does not have to rely on other nations to provide it with oxygen. Eswatini coped very well with the first stages of the virus, it became overwhelmed when its case numbers sky rocketed in the second wave."

One member of the team, a biomedical engineer, trained Eswatini staff on how to install, use and maintain critical care equipment, and support the distribution of key supplies including oxygen.

"There is much work still to be done in Eswatini, but we hope that we have given them some of the tools they need to cope with the third surge when it comes."

Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, said: “The UK Medical Emergency Team pools world-leading expertise from across Britain to make a real difference in reacting to humanitarian disasters around the globe.

“The UK Government is proud that brave Scottish medics like Andy Kent have been at the heart of our efforts to help combat Covid-19 worldwide.

“Viruses do not respect borders and offering our specialist expertise and skills to medics in Eswatini is crucial in the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. None of us are safe until we are all safe.”

UK Med, the charity that supported Mr Kent's trip said: "We’d like to thank kind Inverness Courier readers who have generously set up monthly donations to UK-Med, and for the ongoing support of the Courier. As a charity, your invaluable support helps us continue our vital work ensuring everyone gets the healthcare they need when crises and disasters hit."

READ: ‘Still so much to be done’ says NHS Highland consultant on the front line in African country

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