Griffith Health and Humanities unite to aid Mongolia

Griffith Humanities senior lecturer Hamish McLean joined forces with School of Medicine senior lecturer Duncan McConnell to train more than 60 doctors and nurses from across Mongolia‘s 21 provinces in the capital Ulaanbaatar.

Hamish McLean is a Crisis and Disaster Management specialist, but found that even his 30 years experience in crisis communication was tested to the limit, by the harsh realities of saving lives in the desperately poor country.

“People are dying particularly on the roads they’ve got no resources and their training is very much lacking, they’re staffed by doctors but very young doctors who have no experience of road accidents and they’re training doesn’t include road trauma,” Dr McLean says.

“These doctors were just absolutely amazed at what could be done with the resources they’ve got, and they were overwhelmed by the training and what Duncan has done. The feedback has been that lives have been saved because of that.

Duncan McConnell instructing students in Mongolia

“It’s an amazing place, big distances, lovely people, very welcoming people, we were taken to every hospital in the area to have a look at their particular work and they’re very proud of what they do and they just want to do it better.

“They regard us as genuine. We’re there to help genuinely not there to sell them a new defibrillator or to sell them five new ambulance vehicles or to blow in say how wonderful Australian paramedics are and Australian disaster relief management is and disappear, and I think they really appreciate that.”

Dr McLean filmed much of the training and is now cutting together a documentary on the experience.

He also became an unplanned focus of the training, when he faced his own medical emergency on the trip. Duncan McConnell spent 13 hours by Hamish’s side overseeing his treatment to ensure that he survived.

“I actually became his patient,” Dr McLean says.

“I was unconscious, he put drips in me and looked after me in the hospital and organised a medical helicopter and flew back with me.

“I don’t know what the cause was, some sort of abdominal issue. I’m absolutely fine now, I recovered really well.”

Their training focussed on the high number of car accidents in the country, and was such a success they hope to roll out more specialised training next year.

Duncan McConnell was similarly stretched, with the most basic equipment for pre-hospital ambulance care he’s ever seen. He says his rural and remote experience as a paramedic proved invaluable.

His trauma teaching in Mongolia using tourniquets made from people’s belts, and treating burns by wrapping in cling wrap, undoubtedly saved lives during their visit, and into the future.

“This wasn’t a trip to do show and tell, it was looking at what their need was, looking at what they have and applying this early `train the trainer’ approach based on their own needs and equipment,” Mr McConnell says.

“Overall we looked at a sustainable implementation plan that suits what they have and what equipment they can get.”