US born paediatrician Dr Paul Young has trained 33 nurses in Mashai, Lesotho since 2008, when he started working for a charity offering the chance to work in the Aids ravaged country.
The nurses he’s trained in the south African country have in turn encouraged many pregnant women to get tested and take the drugs that prevent them passing the disease to their newborns.
“I used to be afraid to look at the babies’ test results,” he said after examining children, who were born healthy despite having HIV positive mothers. “But now, most of them are negative,” he told The New York Times.
“If this was the last thing I did, if this was the only job I ever had in life, I would have served my purpose,” the 33 year-old said.
Dr Young’s work with the Paediatric Aids Corps reflects a mounting interest among young doctors in tackling the deadly epidemics devastating the world’s poorest countries, partly triggered by the billions being poured into international aid.
There’s a serious shortage of health workers across sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organisation. Lesotho has the third highest HIV rate in the world - just under one in four people in the country are living with HIV, says Aids charity, Avert. But the whole country has just one paediatrician in its government health care system.
Schemes like the one Dr Young works on have really helped across Africa, which as a whole desperately needs paediatricians, surgeons and specialists to train African doctors and nurses, say public health experts. And more and more young doctors want to get involved. More than 70 universities in the US and Canada now offer formal academic programs in global health.
“Today’s students really want to make a difference in the world,” said Duke University’s Michael Merson. “They have a passion for sacrifice and service. It reminds me of the ’60s.”
In 2009, there were around 23,000 new HIV infections in Lesotho and about 14,000 people died from Aids, said Avert. And more than half of the 260,000 adults living with HIV in Lesotho are women.
The Aids epidemic in Lesotho has ruined the country. Crippling poverty combined with the disease has plunged the average life expectancy to 51. The effect on families and the whole nation is being felt as adults become too sick to work, and children orphaned by Aids are left to run households.