No matter where people go for adventure, medicine must follow. Those are the words of Mark Hannaford, a pioneer in the field of extreme medicine.
World Extreme Medicine, which was co-founded by Hannaford over 15 years ago, trains doctors and other medical professionals to work in some of the most inhospitable locations in the world. Providing support to those who respond to disasters, humanitarian crises, conflict zones and other low resource environments.
Hannaford, who was a member of 21 SAS (Reserves) Regiment and has over 27 years of experience in expeditions & remote travelling under his belt, reiterates the need for medics to have the necessary skills to work in some of the most remote areas of the world.
Speaking to Nevisport, he said: “A lot of skills are needed to work remotely and this differs to hospital medicine, with less access to specialist skills, equipment, and medicines. We concentrate on best practice in the absence of these resources.
“Our environmental courses such as our Polar Medicine courses in New Zealand and Norway, Mountain Medicine in Nepal and Jungle Medicine in Costa Rica teach very specialist skills that are really only learnt in those specific extremes.”
One aspect of extreme medicine, which is sometimes forgotten about, is the ‘pressure’ on medics who have to make life or death calls with little or no support. Hannaford added: “The pressure of medics working remotely, is often neglected, the psychological pressure of having to make decisions without support. Dealing with co-workers who might be working under immense pressure or physically exhausted and our courses provide insight into this and offer some tools to use to assist in managing both oneself and a team.”
WEM was part of the working group that drew up the Guidance for Medical Provision for Wilderness Medicine for the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. The ability to pack more equipment into smaller pieces of kit thanks to the advancement of technology, is leading to a revolution in the area of extreme medicine and WEM is at the forefront. This allows the likes of Hannaford and other adventurers to undertake expeditions with a basic first aid kit, knowing that they have a support team which will be able to provide a level of medical care which their predecessors could only dream about.
But for Hannaford, there is some kit that he cannot do without no matter his destination, he continued: “My basic kit is just that basic, but I always travel with a down jacket with a hood. It is lightweight and indispensable when it’s chilly in the evening and even when it’s warm doubles up as a great pillow. A Petzl headtorch, my iPhone for photos, a spoon, and a toothbrush. That’s about it but obviously, expands if the environment is more challenging!”
WEM is not only educating medics and those working in areas such as Everest Base Camp or Antarctica, they also highlight the similar challenges faced by medical professionals working in remote areas of Scotland as they face the same constraints in terms of the time it can take to get a casualty to the next level of medical care.
Despite his years of travelling, whether it is to Morocco, Antarctica or Namibia, Hannaford’s greatest joy has been introducing his children to expeditions.
“This is something I can be rather evangelical about,” he said. “There is a perception that children need to be protected, but my son was in a backpack and trekking across the Namib Desert not that he was aware of it, aged just five months. Children really blossom and grow by being introduced to the outdoors; watching their reaction to a new place is magical in its innocence and enthusiasm.”
So what does the future hold for WEM?
They have another year of film support in the South Pacific on the TV show ‘Survivor’ and in November they descend on Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh for this year’s World Extreme Medicine Expo. Guest speakers include such luminaries as Adrian Mellor (Surgeon Commander, Royal Navy), Barry Fudge (Head of Endurance with British Athletics) and South African Cathy O’Dowd (the first woman in the world to climb both the north and south sides of Mount Everest).
For more information on World Extreme Medicine and their courses go to: http://www.expeditionmedicine.co.uk/