Young doctor keen to help in worst troublespots

16:00, Jan 30 2014
Chatu Yapa
REWARDING WORK: Chatu Yapa in the Philippines.

Young doctor Chatu Yapa doesn't lose hope when she sees children die.

The things she has seen while working for Doctors Without Borders only make the 28-year-old's desire to help even stronger.

The Blockhouse Bay resident has travelled to South Sudan, Iraq and the Philippines with Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The international humanitarian organisation provides assistance in more than 60 countries. They go into countries where this is armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, a lack of health care or natural disasters.

Miss Yapa had her first taste of travel with the organisation in 2012.

She spent six months in South Sudan as a medical doctor. She was based at a hospital with 90 beds and arrived at the peak of diarrhoea season.


"We had a child die every day within the first couple of weeks I was there.

"It was awful and you feel really stuck. Witnessing death on a daily basis for months really gets to you," she says.

"It's not like seeing kids die here. When children die over there you know it could have been prevented through earlier hospital admission or clean drinking water.

"But you have to distract yourself from getting too emotionally attached and know that if we weren't there, many more would be dying."

Her next mission with the organisation took her to Iraq for another six months last year where she worked in Syrian refugee camps.

A week after returning to New Zealand from Iraq the devastating Typhoon Haiyan struck and Miss Yapa found herself in the middle of the turmoil in the Philippines.

Setting up temporary hospitals in the worst hit area was the priority.

Once regular supplies and cargo came in, she was able to attend to the wounded with antibiotics, pain relief and bandages.

Miss Yapa will move to Sydney next month to study a masters in epidemiology.

Medecins Sans Frontieres recruitment officer Jenny Cross says working abroad helps medical professionals to develop critical skills like treating uncommon diseases and caring for patients with limited resources.

"Doctors have to rely on clinical diagnostic skills because often there are no labs for blood tests.

"People test and challenge themselves and realise they can step out of their comfort zone. It adds value to the work they do back home as they see things in a broader perspective," she says.

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Central Leader