Today the Frontline Health Workers Coalition—of which ReSurge is a member—posted this great Q&A interview with Drs. Shafquat Khundkar and Nancy Chee, who were recently honored by The REAL Awards.
What motivates you to do the work you do every day?
Shafquat: When you look at the smile of a mother who had a cleft lip or a burned child who has had a surgery and their limbs can now move easily – that smile, that pleasure, is unsurpassed by any pleasure money can buy. I have had grandmothers come over hundreds of miles just to see, ‘who is the person who changed my grandchild? I want to see that person.’ This is a feeling that no one else gets. I can't explain it in words, but it is a real driving force. It just keeps you going. I know that for many people money is very important, but this is something different. This is something great.
Nancy: My lifelong work began as a child, knowing I wanted to help people. Growing up in an immigrant family, I learned about core values and that you love and care for one another through all things, good or bad. While attending college, I fell into a career through which I could live out these values, as an occupational therapist. I have learned so much from other amazing health care providers who have taught me not just professional skills, but also how to show compassion for your clients. Having been at this for more than 30 years, I still love my work and have the same desire to help others that I had as a child. It is also refreshing to be able to share my experiences and teaching with students in a graduate school program. I hope they may be inspired to share their work and help others as frontline healthcare workers here and abroad.
In Bangladesh or the countries you’ve visited, have you seen a shortage of health workers? If so, what do you believe is the cause of that shortage?
Nancy: In every single country I have visited and worked in, there have been shortages of health care providers. Causes for this include access to the education needed to train qualified workers, and opportunities and resources for individuals to become health care workers. Many people in underserved countries are poor and can manage only to survive day to day in making ends meet. Being able to get an education beyond the basics would allow people to seek careers as doctors, nurses or therapists. But once educated, the challenge is to retain these workers to stay and care for their own people.
Shafquat: Yes, certainly. There are a lot of factors. One is a short scope for training. There is also a shortage of people who instill a feeling of doing this for people and inspire people to continue to do reconstructive surgery. It’s the attitude, the inspiration – there is a shortage of that. There must be something that attracts people.
What kind of need have you seen for reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation in these countries?
Shafquat: There’s such a huge need for reconstructive surgery in Bangladesh. With various incidences of burns, trauma and other conditions that require reconstructive surgery, and with longevity increasing, we are bound to see the need for it on the rise. For years to come, Bangladesh will require reconstructive plastic surgery. Even if we try to do cosmetic surgery, that will not compose more than 10 percent of the work.
Nancy: I work in the area of hand reconstruction and follow-up care, and not being able to use one’s hand, great or small, can affect the life and function of individuals. This can be physical, psychological and emotional. On the outside, one can be seen as disabled and deformed, especially with burn injuries, but this also affects one’s psychological and emotional being. Also, in many cultures, people with injuries or deformities can be shunned or be used for money - begging to make a living. There is such a shortage of services and care for these patients. Going abroad is one small way I feel that I can contribute directly to patients, but more importantly, to the knowledge of local staff, which will continue the care after volunteers leave.
Why is it important for the international community to put more funding toward frontline health workers?
Nancy: Because that is the only way health care can best be provided and sustained in each community. It is honorable for people travel to volunteer in underserved communities, but after we leave, the work and care can only continue through the frontline health workers in these communities. Countries need to invest more funding within their own borders if they want to ensure that their people can receive long-term care. This can be direct financial support to hospital, clinics and workers, but there also has to be an investment in education and opportunities to train future health care workers.
Shafquat: We in developing countries can’t do it alone. We need support. There are NGOs that are supporting us, but they also need support. It is the responsibility of the U.S. government to make sure that these NGOs can do that. NGOs know which people in the field are the right persons to work with, and through them, they can work to improve health in local communities.