Army medics from North Luffenham reach out to the unreachable in Kenya

One of the medics during the clinicsPhotos: Corp Luisa Scott RLC
One of the medics during the clinicsPhotos: Corp Luisa Scott RLC
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Army medics are 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, from St George’s Barracks in North Luffenham, are currently 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.

The humanitarian exercise, named Exercise Askari Serpent, is run in co-operation with the Kenyan Ministry of Health and the Kenyan Defence Force. The Army medics are working alongside members of Kenya’s own Defence Medical Services.

By the end of the six-week exercise, the regiment will have held health outreach clinics in 15 separate locations across three counties: Isiolo, Laikipia and Samburu. Each clinic lasts two to four days and sees the medics travel up to 200km to each location.

The day starts at dawn at 6.30am and finishes when the sun goes down. The regiment is halfway through the exercise and has already treated more than 2,500 people and educated 3,000. By the end of the exercise, they expect to have given medical treatment to over 5,000 people.

On arrival at the clinic, the patients are all triaged so that any urgent cases can be seen first.

Army Reservist Sergeant Becky Smailus, who works as a nurse in civilian life, is one of the medics in the triage team working in the county of Laikipia.

She said: “We treat the patients the same as we would at home in the UK. We take their obs including blood pressure and temperature. If there is anything that we think could be life-threatening or life-changing, we immediately flag it up to the doctors.

“Thankfully, I only dealt with one lady who had very high blood pressure that could have resulted in a heart attack or stroke. She was seen by the doctor and taken to the local hospital.”

Although the most common ailments the medics have treated have been those you would expect to see in the UK, some have been a little less ordinary and included a Samburu Warrior, who had been bitten by a snake.

Captain Nabeela Malik, who treated the warrior, said: “He 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 snake in Kenya and the puff adder that bit the warrior is one of the most venomous.

“We didn’t hold the anti-venom at the clinic. It needs to be kept at a certain temperature and, with so many species of snake, we simply can’t hold everything. All I could do was give him painkillers and tell his friend to get him to hospital as quickly as possible.”

Sergeant Thomas Nyanaro, a registered community health nurse in the Kenyan Defence Force, worked alongside the medics helping to translate and treat the patients. He said: “Some of the communities are in real need of help. Medical facilities are very far away, so too are the schools.

“Water and sanitation is also a problem for some villages because they collect their water from the rivers that are also used by wild animals which leads to diarrhoea and skin problems.”

He continued: “The British have been very welcoming. It’s been good to work hand-in-hand to improve people’s lives.”

Violet Kabute, a general practitioner who works at the Nanyuki Teaching and Referral Hospital, volunteered to join the exercise. She said: “I’ve enjoyed it and it’s been a very good experience.”

She worked with the medics at the village of Ronyek in the county of Laikipia, helping to treat patients who couldn’t understand English.

She added: “The Ronyek community’s nearest medical facility is a dispensary that doesn’t always have specific medicines. It’s good corporate responsibility from the Kenyan government to reach out to communities.”

Access to the remote villages has proven to be difficult with the units driving along dirt tracks made up of sand, rocks and boulders. In some places the roads are not shown on the maps and the torrential rain, during rainy seasons, turns them into rivers. But the medics are adapting well to reach their destinations safely.

Helping them are a team of 12 Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who together play a vital role: managing the electrical medical equipment and keeping the 60 vehicles transporting the medics to new locations.

Vehicle mechanic Lance Corporal Robin Newton said: “I will never complain about the roads in the UK again. Even on the tarmac roads some of the pot holes are just massive. You could fit a Mini Cooper in some of them!”

Also supporting the exercise are a team of four Army chefs and a team of RLC Communications Specialists to ensure the convoys have constant communications with the Regimental Headquarters.

The Commanding Officer of the Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Graham Johnson, said: “Working together shoulder-to-shoulder, we are sharing our best practices and experiences whilst 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 began about 20 years ago with a vaccination programme and has developed over time to the partnered approach seen today. 3 Medical Regiment will deploy on the exercise in 2017 and 2 Medical Regiment will return in 2018.