My Global Health Experience: Michael Guilbert

There’s a million and one reasons people decide to dedicate part or all of their lives to humanitarian aid. For me, all it took was seeing a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) TV advert at age ten to know that I wanted to be a part of this world. Unfortunately I misinterpreted the way to get there and realised far too late that doctors only make up a very small part of MSF and global health. Fast-forward thirteen years to 2017, just after my second year of medical school, where I ventured out to the sub-saharan country of Malawi to take part in my first SKIP project and experience third-world healthcare. 

Photo credit: Michael Guilbert

Photo credit: Michael Guilbert

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity outwith the project to shadow an eminent paediatric surgeon, Professor Eric Borgstein. It was through meeting him that I quickly discovered that although healthcare in these developing nations does not have to be second-best, it does need passion and exceptional effort and innovation in order to drive it forwards. Through a partnership with the charity Raising Malawi, Dr. Borgstein had secured funding for, helped design and sourced the equipment for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Blantyre to receive a sparkling new beautiful wing: The Mercy James Institute for Paediatric Surgery and Intensive Care. 

Make no mistake, if not for the initiative of this particular humanitarian this building would not exist. As an individual practitioner, he is limited by the sheer volume of cases he can process balanced against the resources available to him. By making great moves outwith his professional training, he has tipped these heavy scales in order to enable a greater number of people to work under safer conditions with more resources, therefore increasing the greatest good that can be done.

Photo credit: Michael Guilbert

Photo credit: Michael Guilbert

I witnessed some first-class care being administered by an exceptionally skilled multinational and multidisciplinary team. Expatriate doctors and nurse exchange programs from all corners of the globe work alongside and enable the home-grown healthcare professionals educated in institutions such as the University of Malawi College of Medicine. Many of these non-local professionals also work in the college and help with education and management, further increasing their efficacy in the country through actively widening their own skill sets and those of their students. 

Albeit demonstrated on a larger scale, these long term interventions mirror closely the values of SKIP in the way they enable self-sufficient development. This project however faces a similar issue that SKIP projects around the world encounter every year in ensuring that the intervention continues to thrive in the absence of the charity. There is a certain confidence that the revolving door of western healthcare professionals cycling through developing countries will continue, however with each iteration will the values and vision for change remain the same? If they don’t, does this stunt growth or encourage it through new ideas? As seen here, acting as a humanitarian is so much more than your profession, it’s pushing to the limitations of what you can offer of yourself, whilst being willing to learn and adapt from those you work alongside.