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Dr Hannaa Spotlight

Hannaa is an ophthalmologist, and started volunteering for the charity about 18 months ago, around the start of the pandemic. Interestingly, it was a time when Hannaa found that she was quiet at work. With coronavirus starting to spread across the country, hospitals were full with patients but all routine appointments were cancelled, and patients told only to come to hospital if it was an emergency. There is not a lot of emergency work in ophthalmology and so Hannaa recalls, “I almost started to feel guilty, as many of my colleagues were so busy, so I really wanted to find other medical work that I could help with”.

Hannaa has previously done quite a lot of work abroad and has always had a keen interest in practicing overseas and travelling. Her father grew up in Zambia and she has worked in hospitals there as well as in The Gambia. Covid put a stop to all of her plans for travelling and so when she stumbled across the Virtual Doctors it seemed the perfect opportunity. On reading Huw’s account of the man he came across on a bike who was desperately trying to get his heavily pregnant wife to hospital, Hannaa was very moved and just wanted to be able to help in some way, she says ‘it is good to see that an organisation with such a positive impact was able to come out of that encounter’. Hannaa now deals with two cases per month on average, so it is easy to fit in alongside her work and other commitments.

Hannaa has found that her past experiences practicing medicine in Africa to be very useful in her role as a Virtual Doctor. She tells me ‘health care in Africa is quite different from how we practice medicine here in the UK’. For example, if a patient in the UK came to her with a lump on their eye, they would be sent to an ophthalmologist and, more often than not, a cancer specialist. In Zambia, on the other hand, that patient would be lucky to be seen by a clinical officer, who is not a doctor but is able to treat conditions that here in the UK would only be managed by a highly-trained specialist. For example, Hannaa has seen clinical officers that are able to perform cataract surgery on a patient. Hannaa says, “given the lack of doctors and distances to hospitals, training clinical officers to perform such procedures enables patients to have treatments that they would otherwise not have access to”. Having first-hand experience of practicing medicine in Africa, therefore means that Hannaa is able to take into account the limited resources that clinical officers are working with, and provide treatment recommendations accordingly.

Of course there are challenges that come with the role, and Hannaa says sometimes it can be frustrating, feeling that “if the patient were in England we could treat them differently. At times I wish I could just go out there and show them exactly what to do”. But then, at the same time, Hannaa recognises the long-term benefits of training the clinical officers through the Virtual Doctors technology. While it is great that doctors are able to fly out to Africa and treat patients, training the local healthcare workers on how to treat cases with the resources that they have available to them will result in the Zambian healthcare system being a lot more self-sufficient. If COs can learn how to treat a case themselves, without a doctor needing to fly out to Zambia or Malawi, then that is so much better. Hannaa says, “from that perspective, I really think the Virtual Doctors is a great thing. I try to include explanations in my replies as well, so they can understand why the treatment being recommended is the best for the patient”.

As if this incredible volunteer work wasn’t enough, Hannaa has also signed up to run the Royal Parks half marathon in October, to raise money for the charity! Alongside other Virtual Doctors and charity volunteers, Hannaa will take on the 13 mile route through the stunning parks of London. Hannaa enjoys running and says “I thought it sounded like a nice route and fun thing to do and I can also raise some money for a good cause. It will also be a lovely opportunity to meet some of the other Virtual Doctors and the amazing team who work for the charity”.

Good luck to Hannaa and the Virtual Doctors team, if you’re in London on 10th October come and give them a cheer!

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