Antarctic Expedition Medicine makes its debut in JuniorDr Magazine

December 30th, 2008

This blog has once again served as a vehicle for raising the profile of Antarctica and in particular expedition medicine, to my great satisfaction.  JuniorDr Magazine, a print-and-online publication based in the UK and targeted at all doctors ‘in training’ (ie. before reaching specialist/consultant level) came across the AntarcticDoctor blog while researching a piece on working abroad.   I’m proud to say that an article (based on a piece which I wrote for the AEP newsletter) appears in the latest edition, and will hopefully contribute to raising the profile of Antarctic research and wilderness medicine.  You can visit to read their online content or click on the image above to read/download a copy magazine.

Another take on Health Economics

December 28th, 2008

Warning – I’ve packed it in after a long day and am drinking sherry while I write this, so expect a degree of rambling.

The frequent discussions on CCM-L and Med-Events on health economics are a constant source of interest to me.  Bear in mind that the majority of those that argue throughout the discourse are ‘comfortably’ parked in the USA, Western Europe, etc, while I have a very different developing world perspective.  I’m sure colleagues in countries such as Brazil and India will identify when I say that we have a dichotomous economic environment; First World excess and ‘hot-and-cold running nurses’ are available to those with the personal assets to purchase such care, while the rest make do with state-supplied bare-bones service.  The split between public and private healthcare may seem odd to many, but  to us it is a way of life.  Fortunately, I can say that there are equally brilliant and egregious doctors in both systems; I trained under physicians and surgeons in the government system who are quite simply world-class, whose names you would recognise from the keynote speakers at international conferences, and I have encountered their opposites in private hospitals and remote subsistence clinics alike.  Thus, I am not as concerned as some commentators on the ‘risks’ of having a split in healthcare services between private/public, insured/uninsured, consumer/medicare, or whatever description you wish to give it – it exists already in my country, and it does function.

My regular job has always been in the public service, with the government paying my salary.  Before coming down to Antarctica (where, incidentally, I am still paid by the state) one of my jobs was working in a ‘Community Health Centre’ in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.  Khayelitsha is a township/ghetto/informal settlement (pick your politically correct label) of about 1.5 million souls, on the fringes of Cape Town (just beyond the airport, should you know where that is).  It’s poor – the older established areas have the most basic houses imaginable with tin roofs and running water as a fairly recent luxury.  The poorest areas have only shacks – many more cardboard than tin.  One particular area has the wonderful distinction that 100% of the residents acknowledged in a survey that they or a member of their immediate family support themselves through crime.  I was robbed at gunpoint by an 11-year-old boy there a few years ago, so I believe the statistic.  (I remember thinking that I was impressed that his tiny arm could support a 9mm pistol so steadily, and chalking it down to adrenaline, as he was probably more scared that I was.) Read the rest of this entry »

On their way…

December 26th, 2008

The SA Agulhas left Cape Town harbour on December 23 on her southbound voyage to Antarctica, bringing the summer researchers, support personnel, and the new overwintering team (SANAE 48).  We will be training them and handing over duties during January and February, so that they can take the expedition forward for another year.

You can keep track of the progress of the Agulhas – now just entering the Roaring Forties – by clicking on the link in the sidebar labelled ‘Track the SA Agulhas’.  In January she should reach the German Station, Neumayer, then move to Blaskimen Butka to the east to offload fuel before a bouy run to the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia.  She then returns to Antarctica to backload all the cargo and waste from SANAE, as well as us, before sailing to South Africa in March.  Using the link, you can zoom and pan the map to see exactly where she has been, the weather and sea conditions, etc.

My contacts (spies!) aboard the ship tell me that they sailed intto 5m swells directly after leaviing the Cape, keeping the new doctor very busy with sea-sick patients!  The Agulhas’s ice-strengthened round hull makes her quite susceptible to roll, and they have to navigate a set transect for the oceanographic research, so it must have been hell for those prone to motion sickness… and the Forties and Fifties still await!  Fortunately, ice conditions this year are much lighter than the last.  You can read an interesting and informative summary on the ice conditons by Ian Hunter of the SA Weather Service here.