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Pharmacist swaps life in Manchester for Sierra Leone

Pharmacist Suzanne Thomas is swapping life in Manchester for Sierra Leone as she takes a career break to volunteer at the Ola During Children's Hospital with the Welbodi Partnership. The 39-year-old from Sale will be developing training programmes for children's doctors and nurses to help improve child health in the country for a year before returning to the Trust.

Suzanne, who has worked here for nearly nine years, has previously volunteered in South Sudan and Tanzania. She said: "I am a practising Christian and this has been a long standing ambition of mine. Even before I did my A-Levels, I was interested in gaining skills which could be used to benefit others. It was one of the reasons I chose to do a pharmacy degree."

The hospital in Freetown is the country's only government paediatric hospital and referral centre for sick children.  It is the only paediatric training facility for doctors and nurses but often struggles to provide adequate care or training.

Welbodi volunteers train medical students, general and specialist children's doctors, and nurses, many of whom will go on to staff other health facilities across the country.

Suzanne said: "Local staff have the ideas but may not have the system to implement and utilise them. The Welbodi Partnership is very interested in strategic development and delivering sustainable change.  My job there will involve training pharmacy and medical undergraduates as well as qualified health professionals."

Suzanne expects her working life in Ola During to be very different to life at the Trust where she currently spends most of the time working with adults.  The Freetown hospital does not have established services such as laboratories and radiology. There is also a different attitude to seeking healthcare in Sierra Leone as up until recently it had to be paid for but now it is free for children under five. However, fees remain for older children and there are other costs for parents such as transport and drugs not on the government's essential list.

Suzanne said: "People often do not bring their children to hospital until they are very sick, then it is down to the doctors and nurses to try and turn this situation around. Infant mortality is very high and that is partly why life expectancy is only about 48."

Although Suzanne is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead, she will have to bid farewell to her family, friends and colleagues. She said: "My family are pretty good about it. Of course they will miss me and want me to be safe but they know that this has always been my ambition."

She added: "The department have been very good about me taking a career break and I am very grateful to them. The Chairman has been very positive and actively encouraging and I am very fortunate the NHS allows you to do this." 


Notes to Editors:

  • Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust makes up of Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, Saint Mary's Hospital, University Dental Hospital of Manchester and Community Services.
  • The Welbodi Partnership supports the provision of paediatric care in Sierra Leone, where child health statistics are the worst in the world. For further information visit http://www.welbodipartnership.org/