June 14th 2016

Derby Medics reach out to the unreached

Troops train in Kenya. Crown Copyright. Photo credit - Corporal Luisa Scott RLC

Derby Army Reserves have been working with the Kenyan Government to reach out to villagers in some of the most remote and inaccessible areas of Kenya.

Some 150 reserve and regular personnel from 2 Medical Regiment including three soldiers from the Regiment’s Derby detachment based on Sinfin Lane have been delivering and teaching healthcare to improve the lives of thousands of villagers, who due to their isolated locations, are unable to gain regular access to healthcare.

Army Medic in Kenya. Crown Copyright. Photo credit - Corporal Luisa Scott RLC

Army Medic in Kenya. Crown Copyright.
Photo credit – Corporal Luisa Scott RLC

The humanitarian Exercise named Exercise ASKARI SERPENT was run in co-operation with the Kenyan Ministry of Health and the Kenyan Defence Force. It saw the Army medics working alongside members of Kenya’s own Defence Medical Services.

By the end of the six-week exercise, the Regiment had held Health Outreach Clinics in 15 separate locations across three counties: Isiolo, Lakipia and Samburu. Each clinic lasted two to four days and saw the medics travel up to 200km to each location.

The day started at 6.30am, and finished when the sun went down. By the end of the Exercise the Regiment had given medical treatment to over 5000 people.

Captain David Scrafton, aged 31, from Smalley who in civilian life works as a Registrar in the Accident and Emergency Department at Derby City Hospital said: “It’s been really interesting and very much outside of my usual scope of practice.”

The medics treated the young and old, the strong and the weak. Many of the patients had walked for hours across unforgiving terrain to reach a clinic. Some of the ailments being treated are also seen in the UK including diarrhoea, coughs and arthritis. Many were treated for musculoskeletal injuries, particularly back injuries. This is due to the fact that many of the Kenyans have to walk miles to find fire wood and water before carrying it home on their backs.

Some ailments were a little less ordinary and included a Samburu Warrior who had been bitten by a snake. The warrior came to the clinic after dark, bringing with him the snake that was still alive. His friend brought him on his motorbike within an hour of being bitten. There are over 70 species of poisonous snakes in Kenya and the Puff Adder that bit the warrior is one of the most venomous The anti-venom has to be kept at a certain temperature and due to the number of snakes the clinics were unable to hold all the different anti-venoms. The warrior was given pain killers and told to get to hospital as quickly as possible.

David continued: “It was a very different type of medicine and we had to make use of the resources we had. Whilst we were dealing with some ailments we would see in the UK such as backache, we were also dealing with a different set of diseases that we wouldn’t generally see and also conditions that had progressed further than we would normally see in the UK. We saw a lot of chest infections in young children. Pneumonia is the number one killer in Kenya.”

He continued: “It gave me a greater appreciation for what we have in the UK. We can walk into a GP surgery and we don’t really think about it. Here people have to travel 20 to 30-miles on foot to access healthcare. It really puts it into perspective how lucky we are.”

Access to the remote villages was difficult at times with the units driving along roads that can at best be described as dirt tracks, made up of sand, rock and boulders. In some places the roads were not even shown on the maps. Add in the fact that it is also the rainy season when torrential rain turns the tracks into rivers and it is easy to see why the medics had to adapt and overcome all kinds of transport issues to ensure they reached their destinations safely.

Staff Sergeant Tom White, aged 49, from Spondon was a driver responsible for re-supplying the clinics with everything the clinics needed from medicines to rations and water.

An Army Reserve with 25-years’ experience he is about to start re-training to become a medic. He said: “I still have a few goals I want to achieve and becoming an Army medic is one of them.  I like to set challenges and have something to look forward to.”

He continued: “It was my first time in Kenya. It’s a beautiful country and the people are very friendly.  I was glad to be a part of an Exercise that was doing good.”

Also on the Exercise was Private Amber Dewis, aged 27, from Swadlincote. Amber joined the Reserves two and a half years ago and is training to become a Combat Medical Technician. In civilian life she works as a Lifeguard and Relief Duty Manager at Greenbank Leisure Centre.

“I’m an outdoors person and I just wanted a change,” she said.

This was her first Exercise abroad with the Regiment and her first visit to Kenya. “I really enjoyed it.  I was one of the drivers on the exercise but I also had the opportunity to work in the triage area where the patients were first seen and sat alongside the doctors as they treated the patients.  I learnt a lot from being there and did things I had never done before.”

Speaking about the road conditions she said: “It definitely tested me.  It was tough going. I was driving on terrain I had never seen or experienced before including driving through flowing water.”

Army Medic speaks to children in Kenya.  Crown copyright.  Photo credit to read - Corporal Luisa Scott RLC

Army Medic speaks to children in Kenya. Crown copyright. Photo credit – Corporal Luisa Scott RLC

Also supporting the team were a team of four Army Chefs and a team of RLC Communications Specialists who ensured the convoys had constant communications with the Regimental Headquarters as they travelled from place to place.

The Commanding Officer of the Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Graham Johnson said: “Working in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the Kenyan Defence Forces and other non-government organisations, we delivered health care education and health treatment to the rural communities in Kenya.”

“Working together, shoulder-to-shoulder, sharing our best practices and experiences we are supporting the Ministry of Health’s plan to reach the unreachable and ensure that the Kenyan people living in those remote areas can have a healthy and prosperous life.”

“It has been a great learning experience but also, as a medical provider, a really satisfying thing to do.  The exercise has demonstrated not only how the regular and reserves work seamlessly together, but also how the Army can deliver a medical capability anywhere in the world.”

The exercise began around 20-years ago with a vaccination programme. It has developed over time to the current partnered approach with the Kenyan Ministry of Health and more recently with non-government organisations.

“It was a very different type of medicine and we had to make use of the resources we had."