Dr Chris Mair, a GP at the Creich Surgery in Bonar Bridge, Scotland, recently returned from a six-week spell in Sierra Leone treating Ebola patients.
The Highlands GP has since set up a charity to fund medical students at the University of Sierra Leone, where 40 out of 60 students dropped out last year as they could no longer afford to study.
‘It’s a pretty grim place in terms of medical education at the moment,’ Dr Mair told GP. ‘The reality is, the majority of them don’t qualify at the moment because the funds have just dried up for everybody.
‘There’s very little available there, and Ebola has exposed their broken healthcare systems.’
One year’s medical training costs £1,600 and would provide vital expertise in a country where the health system is falling apart, Dr Mair said.
‘Even with two or three years’ funding, you’ll get a big influx of additional doctors, of which they have very few. Compared with the western world, it’s not an expensive game.’
Dr Mair will return to Sierra Leone around four times a year, to help run the charity along with emergency doctor Simon Mardel, and work at an emergency treatment centre in the country's capital, Freetown. This will mean halving his hours at his practice, where he is hoping to recruit a part-time GP partner.
GPs in the UK could make a huge difference to overstretched health systems abroad if the working culture allowed them to take leave for international deployments, Dr Mair believes.
‘When you’re working, at some time in your life, you should [work abroad] for a bit,’ he said. ‘People get a lot out of it, and it’s a good way to experience the world, and just realise things can be very different to the way things are here.
‘I’d like to see it become more a part of people’s culture, so it’s not an unusual thing to do,’ he said. ‘We’ve got a lot and we can give a little bit back.’
For more information about the charity and to donate, visit http://www.globalgiving.co.uk/projects/medical-training/