The idea for forming a Rotary Doctor Bank in GB&I was conceived in 1993 by the then incoming President of RIBI David Morgan, a member of the Rotary Club of Porthcawl, who had learned of the great shortage of doctors in Africa and the humanitarian work being done by the Rotary Doctor Bank of Scandinavia. That first doctor bank was established in the late 1980’s, to provide doctors willing to serve as unpaid volunteers in severely understaffed hospitals in Africa.
RDB of GB&I was formally launched at a Press Conference held in The Royal Hotel, Cardiff on Sunday 5th July 1994, under the auspices of a small South Wales RDB management committee chaired by George Mercer, a member of the Rotary Club of Cardiff, who also acted as Coordinator, with Secretary PDG Alan Thomas, Treasurer PDG Stuart Cox, medical counsellors and others. The then recently installed RIBI President, David Morgan, was also present, as were two invited representatives of the Scandinavian Doctor Bank
RIBI donated £1000 to cover RDB’s initial expenses. Being a charity, a trust deed had to be drawn up to establish the remit of the Doctor Bank and its terms of reference. Also, publicity materials with a suitable logo were designed and printed. It was a busy time. The newly formed RDB committee faced several immediate tasks running in parallel, to make the RDB-GB&I presence and service known abroad, to locate hospitals in need, to raise funds and attract doctors willing to give up some of their time to serve in hospitals abroad as volunteers.
It was decided early on that as the Scandinavian Doctor Bank seemed to concentrate their efforts on helping hospitals in Kenya we would start in Uganda. To that end we established early contact with the Rotary Club of Kyambogo Kampala and sought their assistance in planning a fact finding visit to Ugandan hospitals. We then applied to The Rotary Foundation for a Carl Miller Discovery Grant (then available) to enable the Chairman and a doctor to visit Ugandan hospitals to carry out an exploratory fact finding visit.
To that end, Newport Uskmouth Rotarian Eric Sturdy, a surgeon, volunteered to accompany the Chairman on a two week visit to Ugandan hospitals in May 1995. The itinerary was organised by Kyambogo Rotarians in conjunction with other Ugandan Rotary clubs. Many hospitals were visited and, importantly, a careful note was made of the state of the accommodation available for visiting doctors, which was often found to be unacceptable. Since that time several hospitals in Uganda have received help from RDB volunteers.
Although the exploratory visit was to Uganda, the first RDB overseas assignment was, in fact, to send Doctor Robert Bratman, a member of the Rotary Club of Aberdare, to serve at a hospital on the Island of Pemba between Tanzania and Zanzibar, where help had been requested.
The first hospital to be served in Uganda was a small catholic mission hospital at Nkokonjura, north and east of Kampala, which was the first hospital visited by George Mercer and Eric Sturdy during their visit.
In 1998 it was decided to investigate possible needs in Tanzania and with the aid of the Rotary Club of Arusha, the RDB Chairman undertook an exploratory visit to many of their hospitals. This resulted in an extension of RDB assignments to hospitals there.
During the 1990’s and early 2000’s, healthcare workers served on a regular basis at hospitals in Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Malawi, and Nepal.
George Mercer retired from the Chair in 2001 when Tony Beddow, of the Rotary Club of Swansea, took over the Chair. At the same time, to reduce the workload on the Chairman, Rotarian Keith Moger MBE, was appointed to act as RDB Coordinator.
As Founder Chairman and Coordinator of RDB-GB&I it gives me great pleasure to see the good work continuing to be done by RDB doctors and other medical volunteers, unstintingly giving up their time to go out and serve some of the poorest communities in our world.
Many of these volunteers have never before worked in small under staffed hospitals, in a hot country, serving patients with often obscure tropical infections, more often than not, with only a tiny fraction of the facilities, drugs and equipment we take for granted in our hospitals. Even their living accommodation will often be of low standard and less than desirable. And yet so many of them find their service so rewarding they want to go back again and again.
That truly is Service Above Self.