A Special International Friendship

by Gerry Lynch last modified 16 Jun, 2016 12:48 PM

As the Sudan Fête approaches on 19 June, we look at how the Sudan Medical Link began

With the legendary annual Bishop’s Summer Fête for the Sudan Medical Link coming up on 19 June, we take a look at how the Sudan Medical Link began and why this special international friendship has come to mean so much in Salisbury.

Back in 1983, while the then Bishop of Salisbury, John Baker, and his wife Gill were on a visit to Southern Sudan they were taken to Juba Hospital where numerous casualties of the civil war were being treated. They were appalled by what they saw – an almost complete absence of even basic medicines, dressings or clinical equipment; overcrowded wards, non-existent hygiene and medical staff, often poorly trained, at their wits end.

The Bakers’ reaction on their return home was to organise urgent deliveries of bandages and dressings to Juba – and the Salisbury-Sudan Medical Link was born.

Since its beginnings it has sought to reach out to and meet primary healthcare needs throughout the Sudans – both north and south – through the Dioceses of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSSS) with which the Diocese of Salisbury has a link.

The Medical Link still supplies bandages, dressings and disinfectants – though these now form part of larger primary health care kits that go to clinics rather than hospitals. Other items included in such kits are basic medicines that cure common ailments such chest infections, worms, diarrhoea, and dehydration – things like painkillers, antibiotics and anti-malarials, These are all supplied in paediatric as well as adult doses. From time to time microscopes and other clinical equipment are included. And occasionally the Link funds the construction of clinics.

While the Link primarily focuses upon clinics in ECSSS Dioceses in South Sudan, a delivery is on its way to Kadugli Diocese in the north and they are working out how to supply Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

To be effective, though, any supply of medicines and equipment will need trained medical workers. During the civil war training was sparse, leaving a legacy of only a few, elderly clinicians with dated skills to staff ECSSS clinics. The Medical Link seeks to update these older workers and train the next generation of clinical officers, nurses, midwives and laboratory technicians – albeit in a modest way considering the huge needs and our limited resources.

At present they Link supports a clinical officer training in the Maridi National Health Training Institute with another beginning in the autumn. A group of nurses and midwives have recently completed their training at Wau, in the west of the country, and a further ten have just started.

Thirty-three years on, the Medical Link flourishes under the management of two retired GPs from the Diocese of Salisbury and an administrator, as well as a supervisory committee to whom we are answerable. All are volunteers and each has experience of working in East Africa. Monitoring visits to the Sudans are made at least yearly – security permitting; enabling areas of special need to be identified and checks to be made that money is being well spent.

Funding comes from generous donors, mainly from within this Diocese, from modest donations from faithful individuals to occasionally sizeable gifts and legacies. The Bishop’s Fête raises many thousands of pounds every year. There are virtually no overheads.

Of course, results take time to be recognised – in the Sudans no less than elsewhere – but over the years the evidence is there to see. Salisbury-sponsored medical students have graduated and return to serve communities in their Diocese: clinics are thriving, patients being healed. But just as important are the relationships that are formed during our visits with our brothers and sisters in the Sudans, sharing laughter, comforting in sorrow, praying together, valuing each other and creating lasting bonds.

The Bishop’s Summer Fete will take place at South Canonry from 1-4 pm on Sunday 19 June. All are welcome to this quintessentially English day out!

Middle photo: Jeremiah Bullen from Nzara Diocese, who will commence clinical officer training in the Maridi National Health Training Institute later this year.

Lower photo: Salisbury-supported medical trainees in South Sudan.

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