The story began in August 2007 when two doctors decided they wanted to work in the third world. One of them, Dr Hakim was a Consultant at St Mary’s hospital and was himself of Southern Sudanese origin. He knew many influential people in the Government of Southern Sudan Ministry of Health (GOSS-MOH) and was actively involved in shaping the face of the healthcare system as Sudan emerged from the end of its 25 years of bloody civil war.
The other doctor, Dr Attwood had only been qualified for six months. However, during the summer of 2004, he had been to Malawi for four weeks and practiced medicine in a busy hospital. The experience had changed his life forever and he knew that one day he would be heading back to Africa to continue what he had begun.
Both doctors had one thing in common: a love of Africa and a determination to help in whatever way they could. A powerful alliance was born and before long, several other doctors declared their willingness to come along. It became clear from an early stage that people would support this idea. What no one knew was how the idea would evolve.
The two doctors exchanged ideas and Dr Hakim waxed lyrical about the poor standard of services in one particular hospital called Juba, created by lack of equipment and staff. The most obvious way that staff at St Mary’s could help would be with training and education and thus plans were put in place to twin St Mary’s Hospital with Juba Teaching Hospital. Dr Attwood approached the Chief Executive of St Mary’s Hospital. The CEO agreed that twinning would be a viable proposal although it took some time before St Mary’s formerly acknowledged its support for the Link.
In late September 2007 St Mary’s hospital became the first hospital in Wessex to be twinned with an African hospital. The St Mary’s-Juba Link was born. A website was constructed that provided information about the project. It could also be used a publicity tool, providing an area where potential sponsors and charities could put their logos and be recognised. The International Red Cross and Ministry of Health in South Sudan obliged by sending photos of Juba hospital.
In early October, a meeting was held with the charity, Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET). The volunteers at THET specialised in these genre of projects and highlighted various areas for consideration. They were rather enthusiastic about the project and one of their volunteers said that she would provide dedicated help.
During this time the project underwent it’s first growth spurt and with the addition of a husband and wife team, Tim Walsh and Zorina Walsh had far reaching consequences. They gave the project a sense of direction and much needed credibility that it had otherwise lacked.
Tim Walsh was a recently retired Colorectal Surgeon and was Clinical Director at St Mary’s Hospital. He had worked in Bangladesh and had also examined there. His wife, Zorina, had worked as the Medical Education Manager on the Island for 25 years. Their experience and personalities would prove invaluable in the creation of a teaching programme in Southern Sudan. With the addition of Jo Hanks, Colorectal Nurse Specialist this formed a 5 person team that was to run the St Mary’s-Juba Link.
On the 21st of October 2007 the team had its first meeting and since then has continued to meet once a week. Later on that month, St Mary’s Library became one of the first hospital library’s in the region to have its own Tropical Medicine Books so that NHS workers interested in coming to Juba hospital could develop their knowledge of Tropical Medicine prior to arrival.
It became clear at the beginning of November that the only way to help the situation in Juba was to undertake a fact-finding visit to identify areas of highest need. From that moment , the focus of activities centred around fund-raising for this visit and promoting the St Mary’s Juba Link. The first test came on Wednesday 28th November when the St Mary’s Juba Link held its first Open night. The speakers delivered lively and enthusiastic speeches and the night was a huge success. Over 70 people came and £1,130 was raised on the night.
Through donations and fundraising and a Seedcorn Grant from the Tropical Health Education Trust (THET) enough funds were raised to enable the first fact finding visit to occur.
From the 3rd March to 7th March 2008 the St Mary’s Core Team were in Juba on a fact finding mission to assess the following :
- The overall strategy for the development of healthcare services and training in Southern Sudan (Sector Plan) and how this relates to the proposed project.
- The present situation regarding facilities for clinical services and postgraduate training in Southern Sudan.
- Identify the needs, the priorities, and what is achievable to develop postgraduate training across all professions.
- The approximate number of healthcare professionals who would benefit from the proposed training programme.
- The facilities that are available and what needs to be provided to ensure appropriate conditions for visiting trainers and trainees (including accommodation, visas, internal travel and travel to South Sudan).
- How the project will be funded.
- Undertake a risk assessment and identify security measures.
- Arrangements for the supply chain of donated equipment and the priority of needs.
The team met many government officials at the Government of South Sudan Ministry of Health (GoSS MoH), including the Minister of Health. In addition meetings were held with key non government organisations (NGO’s), the UN, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the United Nations Multi-donor Trust Fund (UNMDTF). After extensive discussions it is clear that this project was feasible, practical, highly cost effective and conformed precisely to the policies expressed by GoSS MoH.
The St Mary’s Juba Link has been given full government backing at the highest possible level and is held in the utmost regard by the staff at Juba Hospital. Workers at Juba have described this link as “a link that was created in a dream and has now become a reality.” They send the staff at St Mary’s their utmost thanks for giving them hope in these times. Later on that March, staff at Juba Teaching Hospital, formed their own team (The Juba Core Team) and held their first meeting to facilitate the Link in Juba. To this date both Core Teams share the minutes of their meetings and regularly communicate by email.
On Friday 11th April 2008, The St Mary’s- Juba Link was given Charitable Status by the Charities Commission and is now recognised as a Charity.
Over the last 7 years The Link have fundraised approximately £180,000 and have had a 6 bedded bungalow built in the grounds of the doctors mess. This is directly opposite Juba Teaching Hospital. This will enable visits to occur more frequently without asking the Ministry of Health for expensive accommodation. The Ministry of Health have kindly furnished the bungalow with essential items and the first team of trainers to use this facility was in October 2013. They found it to be the most comfortable stay they had had in Juba!