Medic Andrew Jones's lifesaving gift in Uganda
- 19 March 2014
- From the section South West Wales
A Welsh anaesthetist has told how he paid for a patient's treatment in Uganda rather than watch him die.
Andrew Jones, who works at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, was on secondment with the UN in Mityana, Uganda, where patients must fund their own treatment.
The burns specialist said it would have been "inhumane" to stand by and do nothing.
Mr Jones said the experience taught him how fragile life was and how UK hospitals waste precious equipment.
"It's really, really basic out there," he said.
"Anyone who comes into the hospital as a patient has to provide everything themselves - gloves, anaesthetic, syringes, the lot. If they don't have it then they don't get treated.
"But I couldn't sit by and watch that - it's inhumane."
Carmarthen-born Mr Jones, who is also clinical tutor at Swansea University's School of Medicine, put his hand in his own pocket and paid for local anaesthetic, sutures and drugs to treat patients.
"If a lady who is pregnant comes in to give birth they have to have what's called a baby pack," he said.
"This has everything they need to give birth but if they don't have it they don't give birth in the hospital. Simple as that. They go back to the village and give birth alone."
Mr Jones knew just how horrendous the conditions would be when he accepted the opportunity to use his specialist burns knowledge at the Mityana Community Foundation.
The charity began as a result of a terrible tragedy in the town.
"A couple of years ago there was a school out there that, for security reasons, the children were locked inside overnight," Mr Jones said.
"But one night a candle tipped over and all the children were killed. That's how the charity was started up."
In the two weeks Mr Jones was in Uganda, he performed 37 procedures - some as a result of gunshot wounds, hit-and-run incidents and stabbings.
"The conditions are absolutely incredible," he said.
"A 21-year-old lad was knocked down by a motorbike and died. But because the mortuary roof was damaged we had to do the post mortem in a room in his house with his parents there."
Mr Jones also carried out five caesarean sections on pregnant women to deliver their babies.
"A lot of the patients had torn uteruses or placentas but they couldn't get from their village to the hospital," he said.
"They don't have transport so you have to go out to them. We did some of the c-sections in the villages, but there were others we did in the hospital."
The conditions also made for difficult, and dangerous, deliveries.
"Once we had the lights go out mid-operation," he said.
"The generator failed and it was pitch black. You literally couldn't see anything.
"Luckily I had a head torch in my pocket. One of the nurses put it on my head and I had to work with that. It was crazy.
"There would a legal battle if something like that happened in this country, but it's a part of life over there."
Mr Jones said basic equipment used in the UK is just not available in Uganda, which costs lives,
"The thing we use most in theatre is a surgical diathermy machine, which basically stops you from bleeding to death," he said.
"But they don't have that machine because of the power supply out there, which basically means patients bleed to death. There's nothing you can do."
On returning to Swansea, Mr Jones said he has learnt not to take equipment for granted.
"I think there are certain skills they've taken from me, such as how to separate waste," he said.
"I've noticed how much we waste equipment in this country. Syringes only cost 2/3p but they're a huge thing to them.
"I try to not waste anything."
He added: "Everyone should do this as part of their training. I put myself on call from the moment I arrived until I left... I was very sad to leave and I cannot wait to go back."