Show and Tell: Our “First Kits” in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains
By: Tim Landers, RN, PhD
Ohio State College of Nursing
This past weekend, we had a chance to take a hiking tour of the Simien mountains in Ethiopia. This has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth – the landscapes are gorgeous, the people are smiling and proud, and there is plenty of wildlife.
I have done quite a bit of hiking with my two sons and friends from Boy Scout Troop 33 in Columbus. As we were hiking across the Simien mountain pass, our guide and I chatted about our experiences hiking and guiding groups.
Melese Beza (of www.outstandingsimienmountainstours.com) grew up tending livestock as a shepherd and works as a professional tour guide through the mountains as he completes his bachelor’s degree in tourism management. He speaks English quite well and we began to talk about the types of health problems he encounters as a professional hiking guide.
We took a break as it began to rain and started a “show and tell” of our first aid kits. He had a basic kit ready for the main emergencies from African trekking – including what he adoringly called “potions” such as acetaminophen, wound disinfectant, and diarrheal medications.
He used somewhat different terms, but described several conditions which would be expected – ankle “dislocations” (strains/sprains), altitude sickness, injuries from rock falls (abrasions and cuts), and blood sugar emergencies. He also described unfortunate drowning victims he recalled from last summer and that they had attempted “breath blowing” with success in one victim.
In my training back home, we’ve prepared for emergency evacuation of wounded hikers by helicopter transport, extricating from deep woods by foot and by vehicle, and most of our Scouts have completed training in first aid and CPR.
In this region of Ethiopia, there is no such option. There are no helicopter evacuations from the Simien Mountains. Guides call for help and it will come as soon as word can reach the village by foot and a jeep, configured as an ambulance, can make it to the wounded person.
As we discussed how injured hikers are treated and our own experiences, I was impressed with his solid grasp on these conditions. He has been working with several other guides trying to organize a more formal training in first aid and CPR for Simien Mountain guides.
Because our group is exploring the possibility of working with nurses and health extension workers to do health education, I was able to direct him to some excellent training resources developed by my friends at Columbia University School of Nursing. They have developed a fine first aid training curriculum in first aid for health extension workers.
I left him with some supplies from my kit and he reciprocated by sharing knowledge of local plants and remedies.
He left me with an appreciation for the training and preparation it takes to safely enjoy the outdoors – whether it is in Ohio or in Ethiopia.