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Army nurse leading the way in Zambia healthcare

INITIATIVE: Major Chris Carter, left, is helping to build Zambia’s nursing graduate programme after he saw an advert calling for volunteers to help the healthcare situation in the African country

A FORMER army nurse who has completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan among a series of deployments to the Middle East, has turned his attention to the southern African country of Zambia, where he is setting up a framework for developing and qualifying nursing personnel.

Birmingham-based nursing lecturer Major Chris Carter answered an advert in a medical journal in 2015 which called for volunteers to set up a critical nursing care program in Zambia.

The country, although stable, is landlocked and generates a low income with 60 per cent of the population living in rural communities.

Maj Carter, who lectures in the Defence School of Healthcare Educational Birmingham City University, said: “The doctors there realised that their project to develop healthcare was not going to reach its full potential unless investment was also being made in nursing staff.

“The doctors were being trained in current practice, applied in the context of a developing country, dealing with diseases totally different to what we see in the UK, but which are common there.

“However, without the nurses who do the majority of the care, the project wouldn’t work. What transpired was that, despite what the advert said, in fact there was no project, no funding – nothing.”

With support from the Tropical Health and Education Trust, Maj Carter has since been to Zambia seven times, working with the Zambian Ministry of Health, travelling almost 3,100 miles and visiting 16 public hospitals to assess the challenges facing nurses and critical care in the nation.

Maj Carter and the team then wrote a report for the Ministry of Health, making recommendations to help build the country’s capacity in nursing capability, including a gradu ate programme.

The troop attracted funding from the UK’s Department for International Development, the European Union and the university, which also provides all the professional back-office function and governance needed to keep the project running.

Last year, Maj Chris took six university students, also learners from the Army and Navy, to Zambia as a part of their training to give them valuable experience in the pressures of practicing in a resource-limited environment.

He added: “We watched a doctor performing a procedure and I talked the students through it. I told them to watch how he and the nurses were working – only opening equipment when they needed it, so they didn’t waste anything – because it’s too precious. I challenge them; imagine you are on board a ship, or in the field – you’re not going to have an infinite supply of gloves, oxygen, swabs.

“Plus, when you’ve got 10 patients on a ward, and there are only three of you, there’s no agency you can call, no extra staff, it’s just you. I get students to think about what they would do in that situation. ‘Which is their sickest patient at the moment?

Why do you think that? I get them to think through some of the clinical decisions they would never face in the NHS. ‘You’ve only got 10 ventilators, but you’ve got 11 patients who need it – what are you going to do?’”

What began as a response to an advert and an initiative fostered by four enthusiasts has progressed into an international collaborative effort that has trained over 900 healthcare workers in Zambia.

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