By Ryan Chen and Ang Wee Kiat
On 14 and 15 March 2014, LKCMedicine Students’ Medical Society led the inaugural Overseas Community Project Batam trip. Twenty medical students and six staff were part of this pioneering effort, which kicked off with an eye-opening visit to Budi Kemuliaan Hospital on 14 March.
The highlight of the hospital tour was definitely the cultural exposure. For example, we were able to understand the differences in HIV testing between Singapore and Indonesia, which is greatly affected by the domestic and financial demographic of the patients seen there. We also had the rare opportunity to converse with three HIV patients; this felt raw and honest. It was amazing how we could sense their emotions and struggles despite the language barrier.
This experience struck a chord as it brought to life the third-hand accounts of HIV patients we have so often heard, but never met face-to-face. The patients' denial, depression and eventual acceptance are a painful struggle that we were slowly introduced to.
The programme of the second day comprised setting up four free clinics in four rural villages together with the St. Andrew’s medical relief mission team. We were assigned diverse roles, ranging from blood pressure and temperature screening, teaching dental hygiene, and running the pharmacy and medical dispensary, to playing with the village children. We played the “London Bridge” singing game, drew colourful pictures and sculpted balloons with the children who were delighted with all the activities.
At the same time, Vice-Dean for Clinical Affairs Associate Professor Pang Weng Sun and Professor of Infectious Disease Annelies Wilder-Smith screened and treated a steady stream of patients. Altogether, between the four teams, we saw more than 400 patients that day.
Through this hands-on experience, we were exposed to a myriad of conditions that would have been diagnosed early in Singapore, such as Duchenne muscle dystrophy and splenomegaly.
Most pertinent to us were, again, the cultural differences and challenges faced when conducting an overseas medical mission. For example, medical volunteers like Prof Pang and Prof Wilder-Smith had to assess patients in makeshift tents. These problems would be a rarity in the calculated Singapore healthcare environment. It certainly helped us appreciate the accessibility of healthcare in Singapore.