Book Review: Band-aid for a Broken Leg by Damien Brown

This is a Melbourne doctor’s remarkable story of his experience working for Médecins Sans Frontières in Africa. It was published in 2012 so it’s not a recent experience but passing time has not changed the needs of the poor in Africa

The author at twenty-nine decides to volunteer to run a small hospital in the town of Mavinga in Angola. He’s wholly unprepared for what he must do as he faces health problems that is almost never encountered in a large Australian city hospital.  Illnesses such as malaria and malnutrition are just two of the top ten standard ailments in a place like this. His medical training is severely tested without the state-of-the-art medical equipment, fully trained staff and latest blood testing capabilities as it would be for anyone. In the place where he finds himself, the staff are barely trained, administering their own idea of drugs, where the harshness of the climate and the underlying fear of gunfire are never far away.

His quinine infusion hangs from a nail on an improvised wooden stand, and there will be electricity for lighting for just four hours… there is little else.’

Brown battles his own insecurities to fit in as a square peg in a round hole not of his making. Staff are not always happy and he has his own health issues to contend with in the outside latrine, battling plate-sized spiders and numerous other insects. But for all that, he has the strength to persevere, to make a difference which is the sole reason he volunteers for such a post. He gives us a picture of the history, the wars and the battle that people in Angola as well as South Sudan have had to deal with, of survival despite the warring by patriarchal societies, where mostly woman and children wear the human toll.

When Brown heads into South Sudan for another stint the toll is set even higher as political tensions escalate and he wonders if any of the aid workers are making any difference. But they are. They make a hell of a difference for each of the women and children they come into contact with and yes it might be a band-aid solution while a political one awaits.

I was totally engrossed by this doctor’s experience; his own self-reflection and discovery was not only enlightening but inspiring. This is beautifully written book and one to definitely read. Give it a go.

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