Harrogate nurse’s challenge for people of Africa: the full interview

A nurse at Harrogate hospital is undertaking an impressive feat of fundraising for Doctors Without Borders, cycling 4,000 miles across America.

Tuesday, 23rd September 2014, 5:30 pm
Harrogate nurse Andy Dennis consults with a mother and her child. (S)

Andy Dennis, who works in the hospital’s endoscopy department, has been to Africa three times since 2005 with Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and will be going back in three weeks time to provide support in the worsening Ebola crisis.

In Uganda and South Sudan, Mr Dennis was part of a team of healthcare professionals taking care of dispossessed and critically unwell people.

Setting up clinics to provide crucial nutrition, he helped many people build up their weight and become much healthier.

He said: “MSF are working in about 60 countries at the moment. The places I have been in have been post-conflict but the people we were looking after in Uganda were dispossessed.

“There were 50,000 people living in one camp, and MSF were looking after six of those camps of varying sizes.

“The ministry of health in these areas just couldn’t cope and they weren’t really provided for in terms of medicine because it just wasn’t possible.

“The demand overwhelms the provision of care, which is why MSF takes over these camps, but also the remote locations mean people just don’t have access to health care.”

While in the field, Mr Dennis learned a great deal about the devastating effect of not being able to access medical care and helped some very grateful people.

Travelling five hours a day to provide care in clinics in South Sudan, he helped malnourished children build up their strength and appetite.

He said: “For lots of reasons these children have become malnourished and have not had any nutrition for some time. We have to phase them back into getting some nutritional content in their bodies.

“In the meantime we are dealing with medical problems which are underlying the nutritional complaints. There is a set treatment protocol including de-worming and antibiotics.”

During his work in South Sudan, Mr Dennis met Sebit, who was two-years-old when he started the special diet in July 2013.

Emaciated and weak, he was diagnosed with Kala Azar or visceral leishmaniasis - a disease spread by the sandfly that kills 50,000 people every year and spreads to between 250,000 and 300,000.

The Leer Hospital where Mr Dennis was working was helping nearly a quarter of a million people, some of them in quite an advanced state because they have to come from so far away.

But after six weeks Sebit looked like a different boy.

Mr Dennis said: “If I am asked why is this important it is because I have looked in their eyes and seen there is nothing else out there for them and MSF provides that.”

Mr Dennis has, however, provided indirect support to the people who really need it from much closer to home.

Walking from Amsterdam to Barcelona in a trip that took three months, he aimed to raise £16,800 for MSF - enough to put two medical staff in the field for a year.

Through the walk and various other fundraising events, including a very popular Burlesque Without Borders at the Manhattan Club in Harrogate, he has raised more than £37,500 for MSF.

When the hospital he was working at in Leer in South Sudan was burned to the ground shortly after he returned to the UK in December 2013, Mr Dennis then decided he could do more.

“After the hospital burned down I felt helpless, so I decided to raise the target to £100,000,” he said.

“The next plan is a cycle ride across the States from San Francisco to New York City, taking in some other locations to make it to 4,000 miles.

“I need things that are big scale for people who can then say they have heard of it and associate it with MSF.”

As 87 per cent of the money that goes to MSF goes into the field, this money has the potential to make a huge difference to people in dire need of medical care with no other way to access it.

And, concerned about the state of the Ebola crisis in places like Monrovia and Liberia, and its movement across West Africa, Mr Dennis recognises the need for MSF and its continued existence.

He said: “When somebody has cardiac arrest where can you take them? If your loved one falls who can you call?

“There is nobody, and that is what MSF do. They are that somebody. This is the most important think in my life. It gives me purpose. I don’t think this can be overstated. It needs that level of support.”

l For more information on Mr Dennis’s work or to support him and MSF, visit his website at www.walka2b.co.uk

The next Burlesque Without Borders event will be held at the Manhattan Club on November 29, 2014.