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Reaching out with RAD-AID

3 January, 2018

Author: Karen Sacker, South Lancashire Breast Screening Unit, Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust

Karen Sacker
Karen Sacker

I was invited to join RAD-AID’s womens healthcare mobile outreach programme in Chandigarh, Northern India, as a mammographer.

RAD-AID is an established international non-profit organisation whose mission is to improve and optimise radiology services in developing countries. As a mammographer working in the NHS Breast Screening Programme, delivering both mammography and dexa services, the opportunity to be an integral part of such a successful and worthwhile programme filled me with a sense of pride.

The Asha Jyoti project was set up in 2012 as a collaboration between the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Philips Healthcare and RAD-AID to provide free breast, osteoporosis and cervical cancer screening. A mobile screening unit was purposely designed to provide all these facilities.

Asha Jyoti means 'Ray of Hope' in Hindi and the project is designed to serve populations in Northern India, in the Punjab province and City of Chandigarh. Staffed by two nurses, one radiographer and one medical registrar, the van operates on two sites in the city, and also travels to remote health camps throughout the region.

Having arrived in Delhi from Manchester, I met the other members of the team, who had flown in from the USA, and we made our introductions. We then flew to Chandigarh together, arriving in time to join in the celebrations for the Holi festival of colour.

As a team we complemented each other well, providing a blend of medicine, radiology, radiography and education, and immediately gelled. Of course, being covered in paint in all the colours of the rainbow at a giant street party is a guaranteed ice breaker!

The placement lasted two weeks and comprised of a combination of meetings, department visits, lectures, teaching, research, support, encouragement and most importantly, friendship, both on the mobile unit and within the x-ray department at PGIMER. The contrast between the fluidity of the Asha Jyoti project and the rigid appointment systems of the NHSBSP couldn’t have been greater.

Women are visited in their neighbourhoods by health workers, who explain the aims of the project and the benefits of screening, and encourage them to attend these free examinations. They are then allocated a date to attend and all are asked to arrive at 9am, where they are all checked in, asked to fill in a health and lifestyle questionnaire, assisted by nursing students, and allocated a number. At the same time, women are returning on an allocated day for their printed reports from previous examinations.

On our first morning at the van we were met by approximately 60 smiling faces from both sets of women. With all available space on the van taken up by equipment and staff, there is no room for a waiting area and women wait patiently at the roadside for as long as it takes, sometimes hours.

The mobile unit is divided into two examination areas, with a mammography unit, dexa machine and a changing cubicle in one area, and IVA colposcopy and breast ultrasound carried out in the other.  It makes for a very challenging environment but the staff are always professional, efficient, kind and encouraging.

One of the highlights of the placement was the opportunity to attend an extremely well organised multi-disciplinary weekend health camp which was located in the grounds of a Sikh temple in a remote village. A coach transported representatives from the various PGIMER directorates, including paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, ophthalmic, orthopaedics, medicine and surgery, plus many other specialties, and an ultrasound machine was also available on site. The mobile unit struggled to reach its destination due to the narrow and bumpy roads and the route needed to be carefully planned.

Over the weekend it was reported that there were 3791registrants (men, women and children) from 17 villages and all those who were deemed to need attendance at the hospital for further tests had their attendance co-ordinated by a local volunteer village officer, who personally supported them through the processes.

The temple also set up a field kitchen and every registrant received a free hot meal.

The van was in constant use over the two days and at the end we were all exhausted, but felt extremely proud and humbled to have been a part of such a worthwhile project. After the busy weekend, the staff were given a rest day and the RAD-AID team were offered the opportunity to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which is the holiest shrine in Sikhism. The sheer beauty was mesmerising and the spirituality tangible. Whilst there, we entered the Hari Mandir (Divine Temple) and although we were only allowed a few minutes to view it, the memory will be everlasting.

It is difficult in just a few words to fully convey what this placement has meant to me. India is a fascinating country and the Asha Jyoti project is unique. The radiographers and nursing team are all committed to improving health for women, and to their own continual professional development. Whilst we were there, the nurses providing colposcopy were nominated for an award for their work from the United Nations in celebration of International Nurse’s Day.

My thanks go to the RAD-AID directors for giving me this opportunity and for the Society of Radiographers, in particular Sean Henderson-Kelly, for their support.

The opportunity to work with other professionals from around the world is inspiring, and is to be recommended. It is a privilege to work with such a dedicated team, both in terms of the local staff on the project in India and the other volunteers.

For more information about placement opportunities, including planned placements in radiotherapy and ultrasound, please contact Sean.

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