Back to Basics - Primary Health Care

To our shame it remains a stark 21st century reality that, worldwide, vast numbers of people are still dying unnecessarily every day. Many deaths are often not, as we may presume, primarily due to lack of food or water or other basic resources, but as a direct result of poor education in basic healthcare and hygiene.

It was this fact which inspired the setting up of the Primary Healthcare training initiative, by Peter Doherty, (pictured above). Groups of medical professionals, teachers and other volunteers have been running courses across Africa and Asia since 1996.

The scheme consists of a basic, but tailored educational programme which is delivered by a team using a variety of formats including drama, dance and song, which all help to make the learning experience both enjoyable and memorable. Teams always consist of a core of trained medical instructors, but can also include local people who have previously passed the course, who not only take a full part but also act as translators. The teaching programme is backed up by a comprehensive manual, available in local dialects, which every student receives at the start of the course.

In the space of two weeks, we are usually able to educate around two hundred local health workers and carers who then return to their villages with their manuals and certificates. They are then able to implement the training and education at a community level using their manual as their reference resource. This then improves the quality of life, and indeed, the life expectancy of thousands as a result.” - Peter Doherty

Alongside the basic healthcare training the teams often include opticians, since their need was identified by the students struggling to read the print in the manual. To date over 3000 people have attended the accompanying eye clinics and received a free pair of prescription glasses which has further improved the quality of their lives.

In areas of South Africa where data collection has been carried out after the programme has been delivered, child mortality (up to age 10) has been drastically reduced. Consequently, regional government is keen to work with the initiative and, at the personal invitation of Nelson Mandela, a team was sent to his home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, to train 150 delegates. They all passed the course exam and gained their certificates, much to the personal
delight of Mr Mandela.

The beauty of the project is in its simplicity and effectiveness. It is a low cost, but highly efficient programme as we are not transporting western trained medical personnel thousands of miles to just treat a few people and then return home. We train hundreds who pass the knowledge on to thousands.” - Peter Doherty

All of the team members are volunteers who currently give up two weeks holiday and pay their own travel and costs (typically around £900). But other finance is required, in particular to cover the cost of printing the all important manuals and there are currently many more invitations for visits than can be entertained. Further resources are needed to expand the project within the target communities and take it to a new level by creating indigenous itinerant teams who can carry out the training on a more continuous basis, as has just been done in South Africa.

To enable the continued development of the Primary Healthcare programme there is a constant need for:

  • Finance
  • Medical personnel
  • Opticians
  • Other volunteers who are willing to train and travel as part of a team.

This work is now coordinated through Links International. For further information about practical involvement please see

Note – in the worldwide context “Primary Healthcare” does not refer to that which is typically available in the Western World through local General Practitioners (UK) or Primary Physicians (USA), but rather that which is available in the first instance to poor rural people. Usually this healthcare is family or local community based and administered largely by lay practitioners (community health workers) often without the possibility of resort to any drugs or recognised medical resources. This may sound a frightening prospect to us in the western world, but it is a fact that we must accept and work with - and could possibly even learn from.

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