Western students improve health outcomes in Bangladesh

Students and medical professionals at a hospital in BangladeshWestern Sydney University students and medical professionals working in a hospital in Bangladesh

Western Sydney University medical students have helped introduce lifesaving and affordable respiratory support systems in hospitals across Bangladesh, as part of a team of health specialists who visited the region.

The breathing machines, donated by the Department of Paediatrics at the University, use air pressure generated by fish tank pumps to help open the airways of babies and children with serious breathing problems. These low-cost machines will remain in several Bangladeshi hospitals that don’t have access to expensive breathing machines and the gas required for operation.

Professor John Whitehall, from the School of Medicine, praised the efforts of the group who found the apparatus demonstrated an immediate improvement in oxygen status and a decrease in respiratory distress in several babies and children.

“With over 160 million people living in Bangladesh, the students had a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the complex health issues of this developing country — and to help deliver a practical solution that will continue to improve health outcomes for hundreds of children.”

“Western Sydney University prides itself on providing real-life educational experiences for its students. Humanitarian trips such as this, are also an invaluable way for the University to put its research into practice across the globe,” said Professor Whitehall.

22-year-old Vedant Dave is studying Medicine at Campbelltown campus and found the trip renewed his passion for paediatrics.

“The work I did in regional hospitals in Bangladesh gave me an entirely new perspective as the healthcare system is vastly different from the Australian system, as are the health concerns.”

“The experience was incredibly rewarding but also very challenging. It was both inspiring and shocking to see how the Bangladeshi doctors had to prioritise who receives medical treatment — due to resource constraints.

“We did examination after examination, seeing over 100 children a day. Countless children were underweight and stuck in a vicious cycle where simple issues progressed into severe medical conditions.

“Under these difficult circumstances, it was invaluable to have the support of neonatal nurses Amanda Lyneham and Melissa Cooper and we all benefitted from observing them train staff on the apparatus,” said Vedant.

The team, which included medical students, neonatal nurse specialists from Campbelltown Hospital, two doctors and a public health specialist, worked to establish the new breathing equipment, train local nurses and doctors in its use, and to conduct health surveys on behalf of the Australian aid organisation Symbiosis. The neonatal nurses also connected with women in rural villages who attend home deliveries to provide critical information about early intervention for babies not breathing properly.

The students surveyed over 2800 children from 20 villages during their time abroad. Analysis of the nutritional and health data collected indicated a high level of chronic disease including cerebral palsy and widespread under-nutrition. The data will inform aid development and public health programmes.


29 March 2019

Ali Sardyga, Media Officer