Having sharpened my pencil and packed my new ‘world’ themed notepad, I arrived at the historic school of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Liverpool (not to be confused with the less well-known London School). Ushered through the doorway by the friendly security guard, I found a queue of people equally as excited with a buzz of nervous energy. Later that morning, I realised, ‘take your Mac’ refers to both your computer and your raincoat when coming to study here!
It’s fair to say, the DTMH attracts a lot of young medics hoping to work in tropical and sometimes in quite tragic environments. I’m not that young anymore but I too hope to immerse myself in tropical medicine at some point again too! Having had my own long and colourful journey through training in the NHS, I now work as a Paediatrician. It is incredibly humbling to be a student again and to be an educational sponge next to fellow students who can actually understand statistics or regularly ‘pop on’ a microscope to identify pathology.
My region of training (East of England) were kind enough to let me volunteer and work with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Malawi in 2010. Malawians truly are some of the warmest people you will ever come across, hence the saying about the country: ‘The warm heart of Africa’.
I met Dr Elizabeth Molyneux and team in Blantyre whilst I was there; that was a real privilege. Dr Molyneux a role model for many. Professor of Paediatric Medicine, fluent in Chichewa; this lady has multiple recognitions and is a world expert on childhood Meningitis. The team I worked with was in Lilongwe and consisted of one lovely longstanding Malawian paediatrician and a handful of volunteer doctors often from UN. Many volunteers were not paediatric trained.
The first week of volunteering was spent understanding the language and customs. Your views and judgements are challenged. You really get immersed in everything from cultural norms and etiquettes to local politics. And one thing that became very suddenly apparent is how much political stability and decision-making impacts everyone. I’ll give you an example; The British High Commissioner at the time referred to President Bingu of Malawi as Autocratic. He was subsequently removed from position (’asked to leave’). The first memo we got from VSO were instructions of how to contact to their head office if any problems arose. It was a nerve-racking time understanding how to react. It was all okay for us in the end but Anglo- Malawian relations were very abruptly affected on multiple levels.
When we weren’t fighting the war against Malaria, we all went to climb the beautiful Mount Mulange and made spaghetti in a Bothy at the top. Good times!
Anyways I’m digressing; I could talk to you for a long time about my experiences in Malawi. Suffice to say, if you want to know what it’s like to volunteer, just do it!
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi.
But for now here’s a fun fact for you all, we have a colleague in the cohort who is making history by being the first-ever veterinary pathologist to do the course. Go Harry! We have a great cohort, very sociable. Some impressive singers, drinkers, runners, walkers, climbers, cooks and students! My flatmate said to me, is it normal for students to get along so much and invite the whole bunch out everywhere? He said this one evening as ‘DTMH August 18’ (aka ‘Club Tropicana’ & ‘Club Keen’) takes over The Pump House! He was hypothesising that there was some selection bias made to only recruit really nice people. Ha ha…it’s hard not to talk about statistics and lessons when out with each other. Scepticaemia is contagious as explained by Dr Garner. In Britain, scepticaemia is rife!
The course is very fast paced and a lot of us wonder how our colleagues from Europe or elsewhere are feeling. I asked my Italian colleague and he had the lovely response “Most of the time I’m understanding but my favourite bit is lab work…It’s just you and the slide!’’
Which brings me to the week’s ‘Bug Award’!
Cutest Protozoan award goes to… Giardia lamblia Trophozoites!
Fun facts about our adorable tiny tear-drop shaped friend. You need a microscope to see it. It’s about 10-15 microns in length, it has twin nuclei (appearing like eyes), a sucking surface and 4 pairs of flagellae (tails!) for motility. It’s found worldwide in areas of poor hygiene; ingestion of stool contaminated water and food is the main mode of transmission. Oh and it gives you diarrhoea! Dr O ‘Dempsey pointed out this week that a magic roundabout character looks very similar to Giardia. Judge for yourselves!
I’ll end with my favourite place that I’ve stumbled on. So here we go, weekend one, I tried a gin-infused cocktail (can have tipple of choice) at the ! A must darling!