In the western world, hernia repair surgery is considered a routine surgical procedure, however, for people in many impoverished countries, this is not the case.

“People in places like Africa die from hernias, something that we take for granted,” said Hazel Dineen, a theatre nurse at the South West Acute Hospital, who at the end of last year travelled with a team to Tanzania to perform hernia repair surgery on those in greatest need.

“If you’ve got a hernia, you get your hernia repaired and there’s no suggestion that that won’t happen or that you might die from that. It’s very simple surgery for us in the western world, we just accept that we would get our hernia repairs,” she added.

In November 2018, a team consisting of surgeons Mr. Aleksander Stanek, Mr. Gregory Wirth, Ms. Gergana Racheva and Ms. Cristina Croitoru, anaesthetists Dr. Patrick Stewart and Dr. Tilman Yue and theatre nurses Hazel Dineen, Tanya Vance and Helen Sheridan embarked on their mission trip with Hernia International to the town of Korogwe, Tanzania.

The team leader, Mr. Stanek, who has been on a total of six missions with Hernia International, explained why he and his teams continue to do this work.

He said: “Because we love to help people and they are very grateful, they never complain and most of them can’t afford treatment. Normally they have to pay for everything, including material, and we provide everything for them.”

Due to the lack of resources in the hospital of Korogwe, the team members had to bring everything that they needed for the procedures with them.

“We carried as much as we could, in huge big suitcases and we brought all our own equipment,” said Hazel.

“We got support from a lot of companies, we gathered things and we carried them with us and really and truly everything that we brought was what we used. Everything,” she added.

Explaining that they received a lot of donations from the people of Fermanagh, Hazel said: “With the money that we got we bought materials as well. We bought sutures and dressings.”

Grateful for the donations, on behalf of the team, Hazel said: “We would really like to thank people from Fermanagh for their generosity.”

She added: “People would give us money towards the costs and people were really happy to help us and we want to thank those people.”

Over five days, the team operated on 62 patients and performed 75 procedures in total.

When asked if these people would have ever received hernia repair surgery if the team hadn’t gone there, Mr. Stanek said: “Possibly not - until they developed complications. More people die in Africa from hernia than HIV.”

He added: “The number of hernias in Africa is unbelievably high, because of the poverty they can’t afford treatment.”

Hazel commented: “It is only a drop in the ocean and you’re aware that you are only doing a certain amount of hernia repairs, you are not doing thousands, you are only working for a week and you’re only doing as many as you can.

“You know that for all the people you are doing, there’s I don’t know how many more waiting to have it done. That’s very hard to get your head around.”

During their time working at the hospital in Korogwe, Hazel noted how well they got on with the staff who worked there, saying that they became “good friends.”

“We had a lot of fun. One of the nurses Anna, she was able to put the set of equipment on top of her head, she was doing it as a joke, she was being funny and she was singing away to herself and then Helen Sheridan, a theatre nurse from here, put it on her head too, so we had a lot of fun,” shared Hazel.

Commenting on the conditions of the hospital and how they had to use torches for extra light in the theatre, Hazel told The Impartial Reporter: “They had nothing and their theatre was rooms really and you look around what we have and how fantastic that is, there’s no comparison.”

Noting that the staff at the hospital reused whatever they could, Hazel explained: “We put on a sterile gown here and it’s disposable, so you use it once and then throw it away. In Africa you realised that you were using your gown and you might have put it in the bin and they were taking it back out.”

When asked if they will continue to do this mission work, Mr. Stanek said: “The idea is to continue the project for the next years.

“This was the first time ever that the nurses joined us and this is the only group from the whole of Ireland and one of four or five groups from the UK.”

Hazel added: “We didn’t spend all the money, that goes into a pot and it’ll help towards this year’s mission, in September.”

This September a team will travel to Kenya to continue the work of Hernia International.