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Northumbria doctors share Parkinson’s expertise in East Africa

Wednesday, 02 July, 2014
Northumbria doctors share Parkinson’s expertise in East Africa


Clinicians from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust have held the first course of its kind in Africa to train health professionals to specialise in the care of people with Parkinson’s disease.

Staff used their experiences of caring for patients in Northumberland and North Tyneside to hold the ground-breaking week-long course in Tanzania.

It was attended by 20 nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists from Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania and the learning will help them spot the signs of the disease, diagnose patients and ease people’s symptoms through drug treatment and physiotherapy.

It is likely that most of the people suffering from Parkinson’s disease in East Africa have not been diagnosed so the learning will help make a big difference to patients.

The course is related to Northumbria Healthcare’s link with the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Tanzania – where the programme was held – which has, over the last 14 years, led to improvements in healthcare.

Prof Richard Walker and Dr Catherine Dotchin, from the Trust, ran the course with colleagues from the UK and East Africa.

Prof Walker, who has pioneered health research into Parkinson’s disease and stroke in Africa, said: “The course was a great success. We were very pleased to share the knowledge and experiences we have acquired from many years of caring for patients in Northumberland and North Tyneside with our colleagues in East Africa.

“Despite the many challenges to the care for Parkinson’s disease patients in East Africa, such as access to affordable and sustainable drug treatment, we have raised awareness about the disease and educated a core group of health professionals who are passionate about improving the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease.

“It is truly amazing – and I’ve witnessed it first-hand – to see the life-changing differences which can be made to patients, many of whom have suffered from Parkinson’s disease for a long time, just from firstly being diagnosed and then being given physiotherapy or basic drugs.”

The course was jointly funded by the Movement Disorder Society (MDS) and the World Federation of Neurology.

Due to the course’s success, the MDS plans to run similar courses in other regions of Africa in the future. Prof Walker is chairman of the MDS African Task Force, which was established in 2012 to raise awareness and increase training about Parkinson’s disease in Africa, and call for affordable, and sustainable, drug treatment.

Northumbria Healthcare’s link with KCMC, which was set up in 1999, is funded by its Bright Charity with specific initiatives supported by the Tropical Health Education Trust (THET). The link is one of the most longstanding in the UK, and is often held up as an example of good practice.

Over the years, teams from the Trust have volunteered their time to travel to Tanzania to train their African counterparts to enable them to provide a vastly improved medical environment for patients in their country. 

Initially that training focused on physiotherapy, occupational therapy, clinical coding and wound management. The level of support offered by the Trust expanded to include theatre nursing, sterile supplies, ultrasound and laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery.

For more information about the international link visit