Medical students participating in UK International Emergency Trauma Register training

Andy Steele

Andrew Steele is a final year medical student, having done his pre-clinical years at St Andrews before returning to his home city for his clinical years at The University of Manchester. He is due to start his academic FY job this year at Royal Bolton Hospital, Greater Manchester, with a medical education component. Having experienced healthcare from a government hospital in Malawi to the top private hospital in Hong Kong, his main interests are in clinical anatomy, oncology and global health, and he hopes to share this enthusiasm with others. In his spare time, Andrew enjoys running, playing piano/keys and guitar, singing and song-writing.

Natural disasters – earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, to name just a few – can bring so much destruction to the lives of thousands with many losing loved ones, sustaining life-threatening injuries and having to rebuild their livelihoods from scratch.

The recent magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Nepal on 25th April 2015, with a magnitude 6.7 aftershock the following day and a second major earthquake on 12th May (the death toll surpassing 8,500) is a reminder to us all that natural disasters are not to be taken lightly but require expertise in preventing and managing fatal consequences.

Not only do such disasters cause an influx of casualties to the hospitals, but the medical facilities and emergency services can also take a hit, leaving them with less ability to handle such crises.The developing countries are impacted the most, with generally poorer and unsafe infrastructure to cope with rapidly growing populations and mass urbanisation, combined with climate change affecting storm patterns, rainfall and sea levels.

Furthermore, poor sanitation and over-crowding contribute to the widespread transmission of communicable diseases. In these places of devastation, emergency humanitarian medical response teams play a vital role in supporting the local facilities to treat the survivors, while protecting them from imminent threats.

How does the UK respond to humanitarian emergencies? 

The UK government’s humanitarian emergency response to developing countries is lead by the Department for International Development (DFID), which works with other government departments, the United Nations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to deploy skilled personnel to support the local response on the ground.

One such team, which deployed 13 medical professionals to provide aid at the Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines in 2013, was the UK international Emergency Trauma Register (UKIETR). This has been hosted since November 2013 by UK-Med, which has been responding to disasters since 1995 when it was birthed out of the South Manchester Accident Rescue Team (SMART). Fully trained and experienced members of the register can be deployed overseas for several weeks, with as little as 12-24 hours notice, and be expected to work in challenging conditions beyond what they expected.

How are Manchester medical students getting involved?

In the spring of 2014, 15 Manchester medical students participated as simulated casualties to help facilitate a training weekend for the UKIETR at the Under Canvas course in Treforest, near Cardiff, South Wales, in conjunction with Merlin and Save the Children. This 4-day operational course simulated the many challenges that would face healthcare workers and logisticians, from language and cultural barriers, to putting their security and team dynamics to the test. Such challenges made it an interesting experience for us as simulated casualties, where our acting skills were also put into the spotlight!

However, these were not the only things put to the test, and Cardiff was not without its own natural challenges. At the end of the first day, high-speed winds were causing chaos, with parts of the field hospital, built together with scaffolding and canvas, becoming dismantled by the elements. This prompted a change of plan as we cut short the simulation to retreat indoors. I know that the team have since made a more robust field hospital off the back of this experience!

Despite the premature end to what was originally planned, the remainder of the UKIETR training was full of pearls of wisdom and experience, shared by certain team leaders and a visiting World Health Organisation (WHO) director who had flown in from Australia specifically for this. A series of workshops, brain-storming sessions and interactive group discussions, with problem-based learning on a variety of ethical cases, sparked off much debate, while kindling fresh interest and passion among the students.

Since then, Dr Amy Hughes, who enabled us to participate and learn from them, has continued to support the Manchester Global Health society in organising talks and workshops, and has welcomed us to participate again in future training courses.

Through these many invaluable opportunities, young minds and hearts are being inspired to apply themselves to the needs of a world that is wrecked with disaster. How are we going to play our part in all of this? What will you do? As the next generation, we will soon be taking up the baton of hope in this global race for life.

 Andrew Steele

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