Back from Uzbekistan's medical challenges
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
Doctors Without Borders experience.
Susan Adolph, in black, is joined by several nurses on the job for Doctors Without Borders. This job site is in Uzbekistan’s neighbouring country of Tajikistan.
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
November 14, 2012
Susan Adolph, who grew up in Nova Scotia but calls Renfrew her second home, hasn’t seen much of either place the last few years.
The Halifax resident has been working the last several years for Doctors Without Borders, which is also known as Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Since 2004, her MSF contracts have taken her to Sudan, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, most recently, Uzbekistan and the neighbouring country of Tajikistan.
“Sometimes I’m a little concerned about her safety. There have been some tense times,” says her dad, Murray Adolph, who owns the O’Brien Theatres in Renfrew.
“But she’s doing what she wants to do.”
A small group of French doctors who had worked in famine-ravaged Biafra founded Doctors Without Borders, whose major goal was to find ways to respond quickly and effectively to public health emergencies around the world.
As one of the world’s leading independent, international medical relief organizations, Doctors Without Borders is working in about 80 countries.
One of the globe’s pressing health emergencies is the high rate of tuberculosis, especially drug-resistant tuberculosis, in the Asian country and former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan.
Nurse Adolph, who has worked out of Uzbekistan since the spring of 2010, has just returned home to Halifax, where she has done community-based nursing between MSF contracts.
“What started off as a personal experience quickly became a career with MSF,” says Adolph, 37.
During a visit to Renfrew in late October, Susan spoke to The Mercury about her recent overseas experiences.
Most of her work in Uzbekistan, a country of 30 million people, has been in the Region of Karakalpakstan, which sits adjacent to the Aral Sea with a population of about two million.
Once the world’s fourth largest inland sea, the Aral Sea has lost most of its volume in an area that is now highly salinated.
Heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers in the cotton industry are blamed for much of the soil and air pollution.
The state of the seabed “is likely a contributing factor to respiratory compromise,” says Adolph.
She first arrived in Uzbekistan to work as a nurse, and later as a medical team leader, in the tuberculosis-treatment program. She then took specialized courses in the United States and Indonesia, before assuming the role of tuberculosis infection-control specialist.
Since 2004, Doctors Without Borders has treated about 2,500 residents in Karakalpakstan for drug-resistant TB, and others with other forms of tuberculosis.
The program isn’t just about treatment, though. Because TB is considered a curse in the former Soviet republic, it remains difficult to keep people on treatment programs that last two years. Therefore, part of the program’s focus is on awareness-building and mental health counselling. The program is home to about 20 international workers and 100 local staff who are largely based out of the capital city of Nukus.
There, as in other parts of the world, the gap in treatment programs is implementation. Hence, Adolph says she hopes to market herself as a tuberculosis infection-control officer somewhere else in the world.
“I think I’ve spent as much time as I need to. I also seek to do new things,” she says of her work in Uzbekistan.
Not pointing the finger at Doctors Without Borders, she suggests she was work-obsessed, therefore she often took only a day off work per month. During that time off, she typically treated herself to a manicure and downtime on the Internet.
Some of those connections were made to Renfrew.
“It really is my second home,” she says. “I do consider myself to be a citizen of the Ottawa Valley. I have dual citizenship between Halifax and Renfrew.”
The type of work in Uzbekistan made a difference in people’s lives, and that’s what she wants to continue to do, she says.
“Change takes commitment, and people always talk about always wanting to do something (out of the ordinary). No thing is too small. And acting locally (wherever you are) does have an impact.”
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