#VolunteerDiaries: Sile

My Experience with Kitrinos Healthcare

Having taken two years out of formal medical training, most of which was spent working in Australia, I returned to the UK in March with an almost unheard-of gift: free, unscheduled time. My friend and fellow doctor, Emma, was in the same situation and so together we decided this would be the ideal time to volunteer…

First impressions

From the moment we arrived in Lesbos, we were greeted and welcomed by the Kitrinos team like we were family. Everyone was so warm and friendly and genuinely grateful for us to be there. After a day to settle in and explore the capital of Lesbos, Mytilini, we were due to start work at the camp the following day.

The shifts covered by Kitrinos are afternoon scabies clinics and night shifts. Whilst this was usually only 2 night shifts each a week, a month of this seemed somewhat daunting. However, on learning that prior to Kitrinos taking this shift, there had been no onsite doctor for a camp of thousands of people, it was clear this was an absolute necessity.

The Scabies Clinic

Scabies is a major health issue within the camps, and given the living conditions inside, spreads like wildfire. There was something very satisfying about being able to see and treat entire families or tents of people at the same time, and the whole process was well organised with other charities helping with laundering and showering.

There were still challenges to face that reminded you of the limited resources available. One patient had an ongoing, severely itchy rash that no one was entirely certain of the cause. After trying a few options, we decided to refer him to a dermatologist. It was then that we were told this wasn’t a possibility as the local hospital was not taking referrals. It was hard to explain this to someone who was, in his own words, ‘not able to sleep or live’ from the intractable itch and was frustrated that nothing had worked.

The Night Shift

Despite the antisocial timing, the night shifts were interesting and fulfilling. Run with two doctors, one coordinator and several interpreters, the patient numbers usually didn’t exceed 8-10 a night. The problems that presented were variable, but notably involved a lot of mental health issues. Whilst there was access in the day for psychology services, this was clearly an area desperately in need, especially considering the circumstances of those in the camp.

With no mental health specialists available overnight, it was a matter of assessing the risk to the patient and deciding whether it was high enough that an ambulance would need to be called to take them to the main medical hospital. With many patients suffering from PTSD, anxiety and depression, sometimes it was the case that they just needed someone to talk to, often trying to conceal their worries from their families.

The other main difficulty overnight was having to attend to patients who were being kept in quarantine, either because they had COVID-19 or were close contacts. When assessing patients in the quarantine area, many would request to be transferred out of quarantine, and the sense of discontent was palpable. They would ask to be sent to the hospital, feeling it would be a better and more comfortable place to be. However, we knew that they would be sent back, not meeting criteria for admission.

After a month in Lesbos with Kitrinos, I couldn’t believe how the time had flown. The experience taught me so much, not just as a clinician, but in seeing the reality of those living in the camp and what they have been forced to endure. It is both a testament to the human spirit, and a tragedy.

I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone interested in humanitarian work to spend some time with Kitrinos, and I myself will try to go back when time permits. I want to thank the whole Kitrinos team for making me feel so welcome and for all the incredible work you do, being there for those who need it most.

- Dr Sile, Kitrinos Healthcare Volunteer, May 2021

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