An eye specialist at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (RHSC) in Glasgow is helping children in Africa, as part of an unusual job swop.
Paediatric ophthalmologist Tim Lavy is now working at Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation Clinic in Tanzania which provides healthcare for children from across the Tanzania region, while Richard Bowman, a paediatric ophthalmologist for international disability charity CBM, who normally works in Tanzania is looking after young patients at the RHSC.
The exchange builds on the valuable support already given by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to health services in Africa. This includes shipping vital equipment to a hospital in Malawi – in partnership with aid programmes led by former US President Bill Clinton and Scots entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter – as well as individual members of staff spending time in Malawi and Zambia providing training and back up to local health teams.
Dr Lavy’s work at CCBRT differs from the RHSC in the numbers of patients that are seen each day, often over 300 with only two or three qualified doctors in the clinic, and the level of disability of the patients, which is generally much higher. Patients are often treated for a variety of tumours which can be at a very late stage.
Children regularly die with retinoblastoma in Tanzania, a tumour that is eminently treatable if caught early enough. However many patients leave the hospital before the diagnosis has been confirmed then fail to return for the test results. Sometimes they return with extensive recurrence of the disease that is then untreatable.
Dr Tim Lavy said: "Sitting here in Dar es Salaam looking out over the Indian Ocean, I feel very fortunate in having had the chance to exchange jobs with Dr Richard Bowman, working with CBM at CCBRT.
“I have long been impressed with the professionalism and organisation of CBM amongst other Christian NGO's, and working for CBM is something I have wanted to do for over 15 years but my career has followed a course that never gave the opportunity... until now.
“What started as a casual e-mail exchange between us late last year grew into a formal proposal for Richard and I to exchange jobs, homes and vehicles for a year. The process
took quite a lot of negotiation and creative discussion with both our employers (CBM and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde), but the whole time there was a real sense of enthusiasm for the project. I am very grateful for the support I received from the very start by the Management team at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
“The rewards of working at CCBRT are many. The large number of cataract blind that have sight restored warms the heart.
“The work on children with congenital cataract that Richard has built up over a number of years is vitally important, both to the patients being treated and the development of future services in Tanzania.
“I am excited to be planning an outreach trip to provide surgery in Mwanza, Tanzania's second largest city, with no paediatric ophthalmic services. Such trips in the past have performed over 80 cataract operations in 10 days - about the same number I would expect to carry out in three years in Glasgow! Experience of such numbers will be invaluable when I return to my job at the RHSC.
“Another aspect of the work here that is both enjoyable and rewarding is the training of African doctors in paediatric ophthalmology so that they can provide specialist services in their own countries. There are only two centres in sub Saharan Africa training doctors in this way.
“I feel very privileged to help these doctors and be part of this crucially important work. In a few years Dr Richard Bowman will be mentor to a whole generation of paediatric ophthalmologists across the continent by virtue of this unique fellowship programme.
“The change in perspective that working here gives me has challenged me to think about my practice in Glasgow. I appreciate more the equipment and facilities that are available at the RHSC. Glasgow is fortunate to have such a dedicated and specialised hospital as the RHSC to serve it and the rest of Scotland.
“From a setting such as CCBRT one realises not just how excellent the RHSC is, but the NHS in general for the huge amount of work that is done there, and the service that the public can rely upon.
“Such a service can only be a dream for most of Africa.
“My wife and our four children are all enjoying and benefiting hugely from the swop. Living in Dar es Salaam is lovely (weather, Indian Ocean), frustrating (heat, language), fascinating (multicultural influences), challenging (poverty), dangerous (roads) and rewarding (getting to grips with all the above). We are all being stretched by stepping out of our comfort zone, but I have no doubt this will be an unforgettable year for us all as individuals and a family."
Meanwhile, Richard Bowman is working as a locum consultant for one year at the RHSC.
He said: “The privilege of this job is that there is the potential to make a huge difference, just by concentrating on the one face at any one time. I may see 100 patients in a day and for each of them it may be a life changing experience."
Last year, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde signed up to make a major contribution to children’s eye care in Malawi. Leading the project with a team of experts including eye surgeons, anaesthetics, nursing staff and orthoptists is Dr Iain Wallace, Associate Medical Director of the Women’s and Children’s Directorate:
Dr Wallace explained: “We established the link with Blantyre, Malawi in March 2007. It is supported by CBM Scotland and the Scottish Government. Since them members of the team have been involved in training doctors, ophthalmic assistants and theatre staff in a range of techniques to improve the care of children with eye problems.
“We have also increased opportunities for earlier prognosis in the community and through this restore sight to more children.
“It is exciting as well as a real privilege to welcome Dr Bowman to the RHSC. Not only are we fortunate in benefiting from his clinical expertise, we are able to share first hand his experience of delivering eye care in Africa.
This is shaping our future work programme in Malawi and will ensure that the training we provide is tailored to the needs of the staff and patients there.
“Similarly, Dr Lavy’s time in Tanzania will help inform the development of our link with Blantyre as well as being beneficial to the service in Glasgow.”
Notes to news editor
CBM works in over 100 developing countries, on four continents, and on more than1,000 projects. CBM is an international Christian development organisation whose primary purpose is to improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest persons with disabilities and those at risk of disability, who live in the most disadvantaged societies.
Tanzania is in Eastern Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean. It has a population of some 40 million, and the infant mortality rate is around 7 in every 100 births. The life expectancy is 51 and the risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as malaria, typhoid and hepatitis A, is high. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world.
For further information contact 0141 201 4429.