All GPs like to see their patients smile, for GP registrar Dr Hasan Sarwar it’s a mission that regularly takes him to Bangladesh as part of a voluntary Australian medical team he co-founded with a colleague.
Training as a GP in Inverell might seem a world away from performing cleft lip palate and burn reconstructive surgery in the Pabna district – about eight hours drive from the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.
“Surgery is my passion, but I have a strong interest in all medical fields from paediatrics to geriatrics.
“I’d like to be procedural GP in the future, a GP surgeon in a rural community.
“Being a GP I can help more people with my surgical skills in a rural and remote setting,” Dr Sarwar said.
As a founding member of the volunteer Aussi Bangla Smile team, a Rotary Australia World Community Services Project, the team has been travelling to Bangladesh almost yearly since 2007 and have undertaken 775 operations.
“Before coming to Australia, I had done many cleft lip palate operations for underprivileged patients in Bangladesh, free of charge with my voluntary medical team.
“In 2004 when I got a job as a plastic surgical registrar at Nepean Hospital, I shared my story with my operating theatre colleagues.
“With the help of my friend, registered theatre nurse, Barbara Mitchell OAM we met with colleagues and our local Rotary club.
“This year the Australian team included three doctors and eight nurses, the Bangladeshi team included four surgeons, anaesthetists, local post graduate trainee doctors, interns and about 30 nurses.
“Working with a joint team from Bangladesh and Australia enables us to work together and train the local doctors and nurses,” Dr Sarwar said.
The team has also established a women’s health surgical project focusing on vesico-vaginal fistula and uterine prolapse surgery and is collaborating with the charity Days for Girls to distribute sustainable feminine hygiene kits in the world’s largest refugee camp.
“After our work in March 2018 I stayed in Bangladesh for another week to see the post-operation patients and to distribute reusable sanitary kits for women and girls in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp – home to nearly 600,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees.
“The Aussi Bangla smile team raised $10,000 to have 2000 kits made in a Bangladesh garments factory.
“With a Rohinghya interpreter service we held a training session for 10 Action Aid trainers and 50 Rohinghya women on basic female physiology and how to use the kits.
“I do have a special interest in global health – all of my team members also feel that way.
“As Australians we’re in a such a good position, we can do something,” Dr Sarwar said.