Anglo-Irish and Swiss Team, Aliade, Nigeria

17-27 FEBRUARY 2010

Annyar You're welcome. With a touch to the forehead and chest followed by a slight bow, each colourfully dressed greeter would then take our hand and shake it. Regardless of social or financial station, the heartfelt greeting was the same annyar.

Anglo-Irish and Swiss Team
Anglo-Irish and Swiss Team

Four European surgeons (Richard Stephens, Shorland Hosking, Peter Nussbaumer, Andrew Kingsnorth) and one anaesthetist (Richard Salam) bumped for six hours in a very full minibus from the airport to our hospital base for the next week. Presentation of flowers, singing and dancing greeted us as we stepped into the 41°C heat. Posters around the town (photo) had heralded our arrival Operation Hernia by Professor Kingsnorth and team . Boxes of instruments, diathermy machines, gloves and sutures were hoisted onto porter s heads and taken to the operating theatre for unpacking and sorting. No electricity for 24 hours a day is normal, necessitating a new generator being installed to provide continuous (African style) power for theatres.

And so we started. By dawn patients with hernias started arriving; young, old, fit, HIV negative, HIV positive, pregnant, curious. Following confirmation of a hernia(s) they made their way to the theatres where they waited their turn. Nobody seemed to mind waiting for as long as it took word on the street came back that this was a small price to pay for a well performed procedure as a day case. Like the children of Israel they kept coming and we kept operating two tables on the go from 8 til 5. Eighty patients and one hundred hernias later we reached full time and still they kept coming. Names were taken with the promise that the next hernia team arriving three months later would see to their hernia.

The Team - Operating
The Team - Operating
Training the local medical team
Training the local medical team

By day two an important discovery was to change our approach in a significant way. Initially, the hospital s medical officers came to theatre for training but it quickly became apparent that their surgical skills were considerably less than those of the theatre scrub nurses. Furthermore, these nurses interest and enthusiasm to learn the mesh repair (they were familiar with the Bassini technique) was impressive. And so they began to assist, progressing naturally into performing under supervision. As they were taught (see photo), their enthusiasm visibly increased, work rate and efficiency improved further and the whole team worked so well. What a difference empowerment makes. It needed to, for it was the Europeans who began to wilt by mid-afternoon. Despite three air conditioners, theatre temperatures reached 30°C during the afternoon session.

Armed with mesh generously donated by several companies the pile of mesh nonetheless shrank rapidly at the rate of 20 hernias per day. The solution was simple but brilliant. Mosquito net was cut to size and sterilised. Initial attempts at high temperatures were rapidly modified when the net melted in the autoclave. The right temperature was found and the problem of sterile mesh was solved easily and cheaply.

Boys swimming, Aliade, Nigeria
Boys swimming, Aliade, Nigeria

Stepping outside the theatres onto the wards revealed a much bigger problem. HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa has been devastated by this virus. In our area of Nigeria forty per cent of the population are affected. In our hospital eighty per cent of the work load is HIV related. Thanks to huge inputs by overseas charities, antiviral drugs are now available free of charge. The effort in education and community is impressive.

As we said our goodbyes at the Hospital, "annyar came at us from all directions. How strange, until we learnt that annyar not only means welcome; it means thank you.

Shorland Hosking