Authors: Stuart Daly
Publication date: 30 Dec 2008
Stuart Daly and colleagues are undertaking an extreme adventure to fund their medical work for landmine charity the HALO Trust
In November 2004 I was standing in the middle of a minefield on the northern border of Mozambique because I had allowed myself to be charmed by a lady.
That lady was Susan Mitchell OBE, a cofounder of the HALO Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian mine clearance non-governmental organisation. I first met Susan at a fundraising dinner hosted by the Clothworkers Guild of London. On discovering that the random stranger in de rigueur dinner jacket seated opposite her was a doctor in training, Susan set about seducing me for the cause, recounting stories of her work with HALO and explaining the reality of living in a country littered with invisible, charged, explosive devices.
Landmines, or antipersonnel mines, cost between £2 and £20 to make. They are a relatively cheap way of slowing down or disabling an enemy force. Unfortunately, the image of a clearly demarked tract of land with a big sign reading “Danger! Mine Field” is a misconception. Unexploded mines are found in woods, lanes, fields, next to pylons, and inside buildings—anywhere that people might go. Agricultural land that is untouchable and roads impassable because of landmines are a severe threat to local communities and an obstacle to economic growth in countries such as Mozambique, Angola, and Afghanistan.
Removing a landmine costs roughly 50 times as much as producing it. With millions of mines yet to be cleared, and thousands of victims every year, HALO sees itself working over the next decade in countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Angola, unless additional funding is forthcoming. The UK doctors who volunteer for HALO are responsible for ensuring that HALO’s trained medical personnel provide optimal medical care to victims, both HALO and civilian, of mine and ammunition accidents.
I made my first trip as a student doctor to Mozambique, and my second once qualified and quite recently to Afghanistan. As a result of the latter, I intend to complete the advanced trauma life support course before my next trip with HALO to Cambodia. While in Afghanistan the convoy I was travelling with was notified of a putative vehicle accident some 20 minutes ahead on the same road. As translation filtered through, we learnt that it had been caused by an attack with an improvised explosive device on a vehicle belonging to a non-governmental organisation. The HALO expat decided it was too dangerous for us to proceed and we turned back. As the only doctor present, I was determined that should I find myself in a similar position again I would be better prepared.
Once in the field as a HALO doctor, generally our first task is to assess the paramedic teams operating in the mine clearance areas and to make sure that patients with recent blast injuries were properly managed and subsequently evacuated to the nearest hospital facilities. It is our job to ensure that the medical care available to the people most at risk, the de-miners, is up to standard. This is assessed largely through casualty evacuation exercises. It is also our responsibility to assess camp hygiene and medical care. With over 3700 staff in Afghanistan alone, this is a vital service.
Back in England, I’ve embarked on a £100 000 fundraising campaign for the HALO Trust by attempting to break a kite surfing record. I’ll be doing this from Ireland to England dressed as Superman, along with a Batman and a Spiderman. The project has been aptly labelled Heroes for HALO.
I imagined that charity fund raising would amount to me asking people to commit 20p per mile, but I’ve discovered that there’s a bit more to it if your target is £100 000. In addition to the kite surfers, Heroes for HALO now includes a crack team of professionals from the worlds of public relations, accounting, marketing, and design, who call me “project lead” and, like a politician on the campaign trail, steer me to where my passionate plea will be most effective—while they do the hard work.
The Heroes for HALO team continues to grow rapidly as everyone we speak to leaps at the chance to be involved in something positive outside their everyday grind, particularly a cause with such pressing needs and tangible results. Heroes for HALO is already capturing the public’s imagination. The location shoot for our first promotional film generated some amazing footage as well as photos, which you can view on Lois Lane’s blog [Link] .
Friends both old and new have stepped in to get the ball rolling, but the story has just begun and we still have £100 000 to raise. The home of Heroes for HALO online is [Link] .
There are many worthwhile causes out there, but the work of the HALO Trust is finite and just needs funding. Landmines are an invisible killer which can be cured. Once a minefield is cleared, it stays cleared. So please, rate our videos on YouTube, add me as a friend on Facebook, and tell your friends about the doctor who will be grossly overestimating his endurance to cold, water, and wind next September.
Competing interests: None declared.