What are you most looking forward to achieving in your new role as National Medical Director?
Our vision at Travel Doctor is that all travellers are provided with the information, tools and medical care to enjoy a safe and healthy journey – whether they are on holiday, responding to a humanitarian emergency, or moving overseas for work. In my new role as National Medical Director, I look forward to working with our passionate and highly skilled team to provide our patients with a holistic travel health service that not only prevents illness but ensures their health and wellbeing while travelling. I think the key to this is having a team with extensive experience of living, working and holidaying overseas so we really understand what it will be like for our travelling patients while they are away, and therefore can adapt our medical advice to their exact context.
What did your previous work experience focus on?
My previous work experience has focused around the prevention and control of infectious diseases in resource poor settings – including East Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific, and remote Indigenous Australia. One of my highlights was definitely the five years I spent working with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory with the Centre for Disease Control in Darwin. As well as being an opportunity to provide care for people with diseases that we don’t see commonly in the non-Indigenous community, such as tuberculosis and even leprosy, it was such a privilege to learn about the way that many Indigenous people experience our Western style of health care and to work with them to adapt our approaches to best meet their needs.
What are some of the biggest challenges working in the world of travel medicine?
I think the biggest challenge is keeping up to date with disease patterns and an understanding of how easy or difficult it is to access good quality health care in the countries Australian travellers commonly go – but this is also what keeps it interesting! As well as knowing what vaccinations or medications travellers may need to avoid infectious diseases, we also provide advice to travellers with pre-existing illnesses (such as asthma or diabetes) about how to manage these conditions at altitude, when diving, in wilderness areas, and in remote areas with poor access to clinics and hospitals
The other challenge is having the time to travel to all the places I would like to go! Working together with our patients to develop a holistic travel health plan requires an understanding of each unique destination and, while there are some common aspects between places, it is much easier if you’ve actually been there.
How important is researching and respecting each unique destination when it comes to travellers’ health and wellbeing?
It’s incredibly important. We know that patterns of disease change regularly with the seasons and also depend on levels of investment in public health programs in each specific country. The ever changing map of where malaria is an issue for travellers is a really good example of why it is essential that we stay up to date. We also know that access to quality medical care, medications, and other products that reduce the risk of illness (such as hand gel and insect repellent) is highly variable in developing countries. What Australian travellers need for a safe and healthy journey is therefore dependent on where they are going. This is particularly important for women travelling while they are pregnant, or families travelling with children.
In addition, the types of activities the traveller has planned is also relevant. At Travel Doctor we have experts in dive and hyperbaric medicine, altitude medicine, and wilderness and expedition medicine.
The Travel Doctor has an incredible staff of medical professionals all over the world. What are some of the areas in which they’re providing assistance?
As well as working to keep Australian travellers healthy, our medical and nursing staff also contribute to improving the health of communities overseas and responding to public health crises. We currently have one of our registered nurses in Sierra Leone as part of the response to the Ebola crisis, and one of our clinic Medical Directors will also be travelling to Sierra Leone next month. In addition, we have a number of staff, including myself, who have worked on health programs in our region, including in Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and Myanmar, and others who have deployed to humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Syria, and South Sudan. At Travel Doctor we are passionate about the right of all people to be safe and healthy, irrespective of where they happen to be born. Where our staff have the skills to assist, we encourage and support them to do so.
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