Improving burns care and transforming lives

By Helen Ford, Health Correspondent

It's early morning in the burns unit at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in the Tanzanian town of Moshi.

I am introduced to a patient; a 27 year old farmer called Davis who suffered terrible burns in an electrical accident. His wounds will not heal without surgery. Today, after months of constant and severe pain, the young man will receive skin grafts.

He's one of the patients to benefit from the partnership between Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, or KCMC, and Northumbria Healthcare - the trust which provides services across North Tyneside and Northumberland.

The link, overall, has been established for two decades. In recent years, burns care has been at the forefront of its work.

The team on an early morning ward round Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

In Tanzania, burns are common. One reason is the use of open fires and kerosene in the home, which can lead to horrific accidents. Often children are involved. The impact on families can be huge, if breadwinners are unable to work, or relatives are forced to find money to pay for treatment and medicines.

The link between KCMC and Northumbria Healthcare led to the setting up of a dedicated burns unit at the Tanzanian hospital, providing specialist care to patients. Now, volunteers from the North East travel there every year to treat patients and share their skills and experience. The team often discovers people who have been living with their injuries for some time. This makes the process of performing skin grafts and other treatment more complicated.

Lead surgeon Jeremy Rawlins flies in from Australia to join the team. He puts great emphasis on training local medics; ensuring they can continue the work when the visiting teams have left.

Lead surgeon Jeremy Rawlins Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Not only am I doing those surgeries, but the registrars who are local to here in Tanzania are doing them alongside me so when I am not here, they are up-skilled and empowered and enthused to do those same operations."

Jeremy Rawlins, plastic surgeon
Emma Forster and Sophie Robson on the burns unit Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Among the volunteers: specialist burns nurses Sophie Robson and Emma Forster. They usually work in the Burns Centre at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, and have joined colleagues from the neighbouring Northumbria Healthcare Trust in Tanzania for a third time. Both say the experience enhances their abilities to care for patients when they are back in the North East.

It's an amazing experience: the people, what you get to take back to your day job with you, the opportunities that you see, the complex injuries that you might not see as often in the UK. But most of all, the people and what you can bring to them but also what they can give to you and the feeling as if you're helping them and making a difference.

Emma Forster, burns nurse

Hopefully, my knowledge is better. I feel like I'm probably a better nurse all round. I feel like I'm probably a bit more prepared in myself, a bit more conscious of what I do, a bit more confident so hopefully they see the impact of that in the way that I treat them.

Sophie Robson, burns nurse
Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre is in the town of Moshi Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

While burns care is a key element of the link between the two organisations, it is by no means the only one. Over the years, it has brought changes to maternity services, physiotherapy, and led to the introduction of keyhole surgery. By working with colleagues from the North East, KCMC is now looking to develop day case surgery, to reduce the number of patients requiring lengthy stays in hospital.

Working with our partners from Northumbria will help us to advance our level in terms of providing healthcare services. So this is one of the benefits because for us, providing specialised services is our role.

Dr Gileard Masenga, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre

Back the burns unit, I meet up with Davis the day after his operation. The healing process is just beginning, but the hope is that, in time, he should be able to return to his life, his family and to his work.