Army medics from Gosport are setting up clinics in the most remote parts of Kenya to try and boost the health of the local population. While they mostly deal with common medical complaints, occasionally they have to put their trauma training to use. SAM BANNISTER reports.
Army medics are trained to deal with anything that is thrown their way, wherever in the world they may be.
And the soldiers of Gosport-based 33 Field Hospital can tell you a thing or two about that, having recently been deployed to Afghanistan to run the medical centre there.
Dozens of the army medics from 33 Field Hospital are now in Kenya on an exercise designed to test their skills and make a difference to hundreds of lives.
Doctors, nurses, combat medics and support staff are taking part in Exercise Askari Serpent which sees them setting up temporary health centres in some of the country’s most remote areas.
The idea is to provide the level of care you would get in a GP surgery – rather than the trauma response you would need in a warzone.
Mostly the medics have been tackling coughs and colds, chest infections, aches and pains or other similar illnesses.
Some ailments have required more specialist attention, like two-year-old tooth abscesses.
But despite their main role of providing primary healthcare on this mission – dealing with non-critical illnesses – there has been the occasional emergency.
Outside the clinics each day, hundreds of people queue for hours to be seen by the doctors.
Some of them are merely curious and want to see what is going on. They are given vitamins to improve their health.
But the soldiers keep a constant eye on the line of people in case somebody with a serious problem arrives. And when one soldier spotted a distressed mum with her baby at the entrance to the clinic, they knew something was wrong.
She arrived at the place where the soldiers had been treating people all day with her three-week-old daughter, who was battling a serious infection.
‘We have no idea what we are going to encounter on a daily basis,’ says Captain Laurence Baum, 27.
‘This was definitely the most difficult situation we have been in yet.
‘I was alerted by the troop sergeant that there was a woman at the front of the queue saying her child was extremely sick and needed to be seen straight away.
‘I went forwards to see and it was very clear that she was very sick so we brought mother and child through to the tent where we gave the child life-saving treatment.
‘It was very clear that this child needed to be transferred to a hospital but some more treatment needed to be done before we could.
‘All I could ascertain was that she was suffering from a severe infection.
‘After assessing the baby, it became very clear how seriously ill she was and at some point we would need to move the baby to the nearest hospital.’
The closest hospital to the medical centre was a 45-minute drive away.
Fortunately for the mother and her child, the soldiers had travelled with their ambulance and quickly made preparations to begin the journey.
Capt Baum adds: ‘Once we were content the baby was stable enough she was moved to the nearest hospital.
‘Without our intervention this baby would most certainly have died.
‘I was very lucky that I had a very strong troop who were very well organised from the start so we knew what to do if a situation like that did occur. Everybody felt good to have been able to do something that clearly made a difference.
‘What we are doing out here is having a long-term benefit on the health of the people we are seeing.
‘But once we move on from an area it’s difficult for us to actually see that.
‘But in this case we could see the results very clearly.
‘In the ambulance on the way to the hospital the child was much better than she was before.
‘It took us 45 minutes to get to the hospital in the ambulance so I’m not sure how she would have got there if we weren’t here.’
The troop has not heard any update on the condition of the baby since delivering the child and her mother to hospital.
Corporal Michelle Oates, 26, pictured inset left, was also involved in the medical treatment of the girl.
She adds: ‘Something that I will take away from my time here is the treatment of that baby – just being able to see how much she came round and changed after treatment.
‘It was a bit nerve-wracking because being in the army we don’t really treat children.
‘Her mum got a bit upset as we were on the way to hospital but we just did our best to comfort her.’
As reported in The News, the medics have split themselves into three troops and are travelling across Kenya in vehicle convoys carrying tents and equipment.
A British Army base called Batuk is used as the unit’s headquarters for the operation.
It is based in Nanyuki, around 124 miles north of Nairobi.
The clinics are being set up in different locations every few days, giving as many people as possible the chance to be seen for medical help.
The News has joined 33 Field Hospital in Kenya to witness the medics at work.
As part of a series of special reports, there will be stories throughout the week reporting on their actions and the people they encounter as they travel the country.