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Hero doctor saves lives during overseas aid mission

Published 01/02/2018

A selfless Royal Derby Hospital doctor travelled 5,000 miles to provide urgent, life-saving care in Bangladesh – where a deadly diphtheria outbreak is raging. 

Dr Iain Lennon was part of a team of 40 UK medical professionals sent to Cox’s Bazar and tasked with providing emergency aid to those affected by the extremely dangerous bacterial infection. 

The Consultant in Emergency Medicine flew out to Bangladesh on 30 December, after the UK Emergency Medical Team received a request for assistance following reports of 1,470 suspected cases and 20 deaths from diphtheria.  

Diphtheria is especially dangerous for vulnerable children and can lead to heart failure, problems with the nervous system and fatal paralysis.  

People in the UK are routinely vaccinated against diphtheria, although overcrowded camps, such as at Cox’s Bazar where 600,000 Rohingya refugees are based, can result in the fatal infection spreading quickly. 

Dr Lennon said: “To see some of the small children so unwell one minute and then smiling and behaving like kids again two days later was amazing to see and really made me feel like we were making a difference. I’m so grateful to my colleagues at Derby Teaching Hospital for supporting me to do this because it is so worthwhile and desperately needs doing. It was an incredibly empowering and life affirming experience and I feel humbled and privileged to have been able to help.”

Dr Lennon spent a total of three weeks providing vital treatment to patients in Cox’s Bazar, where there are a reported 160 new cases of diphtheria every day.  

He said: “I’ve never done anything like this before, although it is something I’ve been looking to do for years. There are so many people around the world who don’t have the same access to healthcare that we do, so I made the decision to go and try and make a difference. Diphtheria is a condition we don’t see in the UK at all but the whole team really pulled together and helped each other out, as we all had a common purpose to try and help.”

This represented the Emergency Medical Team’s first ever deployment since it was verified by the World Health Organisation in December 2016. 

The UK Emergency Medical Team is a collaboration of the NHS, UK Med, the Department for International Development, Public Health England, Handicap International and the UK Fire and Rescue Service.  

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said: “This was an absolutely critical deployment, in a race against time for men, women and children at risk of dying from one of the world’s cruellest infections. Our brave British medical heroes are the world leaders in saving lives, acting rapidly in crisis to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Last Modified 02/02/2018