“While casualty figures keep rising, few people realize how many lives are saved at the same time.”
Dr Shazeer Majeed (Dr Shaz as he likes to be called), war surgeon extraordinaire, conducted a workshop on Warzone Medicine on day 2 of IGCLA. Filled with hair-raising anecdotes, this workshop was all about being the best doctor you can be, especially in times of turmoil and danger.
MTTN: What is MSF?
Dr Shaz: Medicine Sans Frontiers is an international Medical Humanitarian Organization, founded in France. We provide medical aid to over 70 countries across the globe. Our motto is to observe neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical care.
MTTN: What inspired you to join MSF?
Dr Shaz: It started off as a way to give back to the community through some form of social work. Once I joined, however, it became something I loved doing. I can’t see myself ever becoming tired of this or leaving.
MTTN: What is war surgery? How is it different from working in a civilian practice?
Dr Shaz: It’s predominantly emergency surgery with the specific epidemiology of war wounds. The environment we work in is hostile, our access technology is limited and most often, we deal with mass casualties. The principle we follow is ‘do the best for most’.
MTTN: What are the most common constraints you face?
Dr Shaz: Primarily, it’s the lack of security. Most of our projects are high risk and our safety is never 100 per cent guaranteed. We’re all given PPD training. Then there’s the lack of hospital equipment, blood transfusion, the difficulty for logistics and human resources. Even the different cultures, geography and climate are difficult to acclimate to sometimes.
MTTN: How many people does MSF send per camp? What is your usual set up for such programs?
Dr Shaz: We make do with what we have. Generally, it’s one surgeon, one anaesthesiologist and a few nurses. We train expats and locals to handle less complicated issues on their own.
MTTN: In this line of work, have you ever had any difficult choices to make?
Dr Shaz: We have to triage the patients. We determine the urgency of their wounds, the likelihood of their survival and then distribute our supplies. Sometimes palliative care is the most we can offer. The most difficult situation arises when the number of people who need evacuation is greater than our capacity to transport. It’s up to us to make the hard choices.
MTTN: As an Indian in an international organization, do you have anything to say to aspiring doctors here?
Dr Shaz: I’m proud to say that there are many Indians in MSF. Being a doctor trained in India is an advantage in certain countries because we’ve had no political conflicts – and of course, the Middle East loves Bollywood! Students can start with projects within India to get a feel of what we do before venturing beyond into international waters. It’s a way of giving back and learning at the same time.
Dr Shaz is leaving for Syria and will be back in December. MTTN hopes for his safety and wishes him luck with the endeavour. We are thankful for his brave, inspiring example.
–As reported to Rupa Neelakantan