London and Essex locum Dr Luke Chapman has worked with charities in Nepal and northern India since qualifying as a GP five years ago.
His latest trip was for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), working on a project in India for malnourished children under five, in the Darbhanga district in Bihar state. He saw around seven children die from malnutrition during the seven months he spent supervising a team that treated hundreds of young people.
‘It is difficult to see a child die in front of you,’ he said. ‘On the one hand it is quite upsetting for the emotional side of your brain, on the other hand you know it is happening and rationally it doesn’t make that much difference if it is in front of you or thousands of miles away. That is the attitude of doctors. You know it is happening. That is why you are there.’
Dr Chapman, who has a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene, said he would like to carry on working for the charity and has his sights set on Africa next.
On adjusting to life back in the UK after he returned in December, he said: ‘If there is a patient in front of you that needs help, you just concentrate on them. The societal adjustment is more difficult. It is clichéd but we do take a lot for granted, when you see people die from lack of calories or preventable illnesses.’
He advises other GPs thinking about working with charities not to hold back. ‘I would encourage other GPs to do it,’ he said. ‘If you are serious about it, it is not hard to take the step.’