Jonny Briggs took time away from the high technology of intensive care to provide basic healthcare in Kenyan villages.
Jonny Briggs has helped to treat 1,300 patients in one day – but still doesn’t feel as if the healthcare he offered has made enough of a difference.
In November last year, the intensive care and transplant specialist nurse, who works at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire, travelled with Camps International to six of the poorest villages in Kenya to treat local people, most of whom had no previous access to any healthcare.
He was one of 22 (mainly practice) nurses making the two-week trip, which he took from his annual leave entitlement. They travelled to some rudimentary primary schools and villages, where they prioritised care for children.
“It was a bit like a production line in a factory, we had to work as quickly as possible to see as many as we could,” says Mr Briggs.
“You’d treat one after the other, and many would have one of a few diseases – malaria, typhoid, worms and yellow fever. We’d offer a lot of deworming medication and treatment for ‘jiggers’ or parasitic worms using potassium permanganate.”
His overriding memory of the trip was the children.
“Despite the poverty, I have never seen such happy children,” he says. “Everywhere you went, you’d be followed by 20 or 30 children, all walking huddled around you or running after us in our old World War Two British army truck wanting to play football or other games.
“They would be constantly shouting out ‘Jambo, jambo’ (“hello” in Swahili), all curious and inquisitive and wanting to touch your skin because it was white. They’d not encountered foreigners before.”
Despite the upbeat children, Mr Briggs felt despondent about how little they could achieve in two weeks. “We could offer limited healthcare advice, drugs and treatments but, once we had gone, they have no healthcare provision other than a few basic centres – and most couldn’t afford to use them or get to them.”
So desperate were the people that some walked days to access healthcare.
“One woman had walked miles and miles, eating soil from the side of the road to sustain herself for the journey,” he says.
“Considering the heat, that was a phenomenal achievement. I’ve never known heat like it. I’d shower but be hot and sweaty immediately after. Sleeping was difficult – you would lie there all night getting so hot you’d make the bedding damp with sweat.
“Treating that number of people in that intense heat was hard work. Some of the practice nurses specialised in travel medicine and knew about tropical diseases – Mr Briggs had just a limited knowledge in this area, but “a huge desire to help”.
Back at Papworth, he is training as a band 7 donor care physiologist, inserting neck lines – including central venous pressure and arterial lines, and pulmonary artery catheters – mechanical ventilation, intubation and managing haemodynamic stability. It’s in massive contrast to Kenya.
“The two are incomparable. It is incredible seeing how different parts of the world have such variations in access to healthcare. To them, paracetamol was a near impossible medication to obtain,” he says.
“Although I’ve learnt about different tropical diseases, what I suppose I’ve really learnt has been more emotional than clinical.”