Can a Three Day Training Visit Really Make a Difference?

Email from South Sudan:

Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2012 05:28:01 +0000

Subject: Training for Postgraduate Medical Education kicks off in Juba

Dear All,

I am grateful to inform all  of you about  the TOT for Postgraduate Medical Education and Training (PGME&T) in South Sudan.  The training course will commence on Monday 19th to 21st of this month. The target group is Consultants in diverse disciplines in South Sudan.

The trainers are from United kingdom who come through the Juba – St. Marys link. I owe them distinct appreciation for accepting to come all the way long to help in the training in South Sudan.

 This TOT program is meant to be the genesis for PGME&T in this youngest nation on earth. I hope the trainees will gain  much from the course and that they will act as the proliferating nuclei for the postgraduate medical specialization programs in the country.

 I am also thankful the National ministry of health and the US together with administration of Juba Teaching Hospital for all the tireless efforts for the success of the  program.  My special appreciation to the consultants of JTH and University of Juba, College of Medicine for the will and commitment they have shown to take the lead in the program…..

 Special regards to all,,,,,

 Dr Oromo Francis

The Chairperson for Postgraduate Medical education and Training

Juba teaching Hospital

Juba, South Sudan

7.30pm, Friday 17 November 2012: one day before this email

 Text message: I’m in Heathrow airport. Black jacket. Beard. Bald.

 I informed the sender of the message that I was directly above him at the Three Bells Inn and there was an ale waiting for him. It was the first time I had met Rich Bregazzi, a Medical Educationalist “from up North.” Ten minutes later we were joined by Tim Walsh, Consultant Surgeon at St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight, and member of the St Mary’s Juba Link. We exchanged tails of times gone by and supped our beers waiting for the plane to come.

 Much has happened since myself and Clare left South Sudan on 13th January 2012. We have both secured registrar training programmes, myself as an Acute Medic and Clare as an Anaesthetist. We have been travelling to the USA in the rather decrepit camper van called Bobbie and we are now expecting our first child. It has been a busy year.

 Since our departure there has been much progress with postgraduate medical education; the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health for South Sudan made two appointments for leading appointed two people to lead it:

  • Dr Peter Newman, Consultant Neurologist at James Cooke Hospital and International Director of the Royal College of Physicians
  • Dr Oromo Francis Consultant Pathologist at Juba Teaching Hospital

 Peter coordinated the UK side of things whereas Oromo championed the Consultants of South Sudan. Despite an oil crisis and tensions along the border, the two groups have remained in close contact. This training visit was short but, as Oromo alluded to in his email, represented the start of PGME&T in this glorious nation.

*         *          *

2.30pm, Saturday 18th November

 The skies were clear as the Boeing 727 touched down, left wheel first, onto the hot tarmac of Juba airport. The overnight flight had left us all sleepless, tired, and bleary eyed. However, our moods brightenned when we walked into the airport and were greeted by Oromo, Kajomsuk (Consultant Chest Physician and CEO of Juba Teaching Hospital (JTH)), and the lovely Charity, assistant to Kajomsuk and general problem solver of JTH. It was great to see them again. You know when you have made good friends when you instantly slip back into your old friendships as though the time since January had melted away.

The wise and quick-witted Richard Bregazzi, misnamed by a South Sudanese Consultant to “Benghazi,” which promptly stuck as his nickname.

 For Rich it was “a trip of many firsts.” First time in Africa, first time to see the Sahara Desert, first time to see South Sudan. As we drove towards JTH I looked at him. His senses were in overload as he looked upon the traffic, all vying at the roundabout to go first. We travelled past a few stalls selling a hotch potch of watches, mobile phone cards, and other odds and ends, and two hundred metres later on the right a familiar sight greeted my eyes. Juba Teaching Hospital.

“There you are my old friend,” I muttered loud enough for Oromo to hear me. I smiled. “How I have missed thee.”

 From there we were driven to the Juba Bridge Hotel where we said our good byes to the group and made ourselves at home. The evening was a tired and contemplative affair. As I alluded to last January, one needs to spend time on the ground to effect change. Could a four day training visit really make a difference? Despite Oromo’s email, I was not so optimistic.

A view looking left and then right of the Nile from where we were having a beer. Juba Bridge can be seen in the background, one of the few crossing points of the Nile for many hundreds of miles in both directions.

As I write this from under the mosquito net of my bed whilst the room is crawling with night life (which freely migrates in from a large gap under the front door). I wonder what the future has in store for us tomorrow. “Inshalah.” I thought and drifted to sleep.

Some of Juba’s wilder nightlife

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