North Wales medics in Ethiopia

Imagine a 200 bed, four storey hospital with no running water in the wards or in the operating theatres.

When water is available from the single standpipe in the hospital grounds for an hour or two a day, staff carry buckets into the operating theatres, and relatives of patients fetch water for them to wash and drink. The sewage system is blocked through lack of water to flush through, so relatives also carry bowls of waste down the flights of stairs and out into a pit dug at the back of the hospital.

This is the desperate state of affairs faced by Hossana hospital in Southern Ethiopia, which has been twinned with Glan Clwyd hospital in a linking arrangement since 2006.  Hossana hospital is the only hospital for around 1.7 million Ethiopians, and has 13 doctors, 99 nurses, 47 support staff, lots of energy - but very little money.

The link is one of a number of links between UK hospitals and hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa; such links are actively encouraged by the NHS to allow staff to be involved with development work and global health issues whilst retaining their posts and responsibilities in the UK. The link also allows our Ethiopian health care colleagues to educate us about tropical medicine, and the health challenges that they face – and such awareness inevitably leads to very positive feelings about the NHS!

Four members of staff from Glan Clwyd hospital, and a maintenance engineer from Glan Conwy recently returned from a week-long visit to Hossana hospital, where they were involved with joint assessment of the water and sewage system along with local and WaterAid engineers, with clinical work, and with teaching and training of staff there. 

Teaching and training focussed on newborn resuscitation, paediatric conditions, and management of acute trauma. The latter has become of increasing prominence recently as the road network in Ethiopia has been massively extended by Chinese contractors – new tarmac roads crowded with cattle, goats, donkey carts, and pedestrians, vehicles with minimal maintenance, and completely untrained but enthusiastic drivers makes for rapidly rising accident rates. It was, as always, an eye-opening visit for the North Walians. 

Dr. Duncan Cameron, Consultant Paediatrician, speaking on behalf of around 20 members of the Ethiopia Link committee in the Health Board said “This is the sixth visit of staff from Glan Clwyd to Hossana since 2005; visits have been either self-funded or supported by a special grant from the Welsh Assembly government that aims to support such links. No NHS funds are used for the link. Staff in the central area of the new Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board have thrown themselves enthusiastically into raising funds for Hossana hospital in recent years with a great number of sponsored events, with added and welcome input from local Rotary and church groups. Most recently, staff have been able to sign up to a new scheme whereby the pennies on the end of wage slips are deducted automatically to support the link. – and a massive 1200 staff signed up within the first month.”

“The main focus of the link this year is to get water and sewage sorted in Hossana – the work will be done by local engineers and contractors, and will cost around £40,000.  Just over half of this has already been donated to and raised by Ethiopia Link, and further fund-raising events and appeals are planned for this year. The aim is simple – to be able to turn taps on in the wards and in the operating theatres, and to have a working sewage system. Not a great deal to ask.”