Paul Tye


Assistant to the MLC College Council Paul Tye with Edna Adan, the wife of a former Prime Minister of Somalia.

Paul Tye shakes his head in dismay when he reads headlines claiming third world conditions in Australian hospitals.

"They have no idea what third world conditions are like," says the man who spends his spare time working on medical projects in some of the poorest parts of eastern Africa.

"In the medical area in WA if you wait three hours in emergency you get really agitated, whereas over there it can be three days before a doctor can see them and in those three days the whole family has to provide food, they have to buy their own medication, they bring mattresses to sleep on the floor or they sleep out in the open. It's just a different world.

"Sometimes, we don't know how fortunate we are."

Mr Tye is the Assistant to the MLC College Council, who works from his office in the Centenary Building. In 2009, he helped a friend write a sponsorship proposal for his charity. That friend is orthopaedic surgeon Graham Forward and his charity is Australian Doctors for Africa.

With that successful proposal, Mr Tye began his on-going association with the organisation which has medical projects in Somaliland, Ethiopia and Madagascar. He started as a facilitator for of medical construction projects and has overseen the transformation of hospitals and their facilities

"Facilities in the hospitals in Somaliland are below a western standard," said Mr Tye.

"I've overseen the conversion of operating theatres and an x-ray department in hospitals, and am currently involved in the conversion of three operating theatres in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) at a hospital which is the main referral hospital for the orthopaedic needs of 80 million people."

Travelling through this part of eastern Africa is dangerous. There are tribal and civil wars and foreigners are kidnapped by warlords looking for large ransoms to fund their fighting. Mr Tye and the team have to have armed security with them at all times, especially while travelling by car.

Among the danger, Mr Tye still sees beauty, even when travelling hundreds of kilometres across dirt and stone roads.

"I've travelled through Somaliland into Ethiopia and onto Addis Ababa through the East African Rift Valley, which is a phenomenal drive," he said.

"You see kids running to school in the morning. They are all in school uniform, very poor and all carrying their books. It's just mindboggling that there is such a different culture to education; that is education is the key to getting away from poverty so they really want to learn."

Mr Tye has been to Africa on three occasions since starting with Australian Doctors for Africa and hopes to travel to the poorest region of Madagascar before the end of 2014. The charity is staffed by volunteers who do not take a salary and 100 per cent of donated money goes directly to the projects.

The volunteer medical teams are made up of doctors, surgeons and nurses who work under extremely harsh conditions, including political turmoil, blackouts and power cuts.

"They may be operating and suddenly the power goes out which is life threatening. There is also a lack of medical supplies and medical equipment," Mr Tye said.

"In the last medical team I was with in Somaliland, there were two surgeons who did 250 consultations in two days. Over the next two days they and two other surgeons operated on 29 patients. They worked from 8.00am till 7 o'clock in the evening."

Mr Tye says he has seen many dreadful accidents. In April, there was a head on collision between two trucks in which eight people died instantly and the survivors were taken to the hospital where he was working. One of those was a 17-year-old girl whose plight has had a major impact on Paul.

"She had two double fractures of the lower limbs and she was in great distress. So the medical team recommended some treatment. The next day the treatment hadn't really had an effect, so the team went to talk to the local doctor to work something out," he said.

"By the time the doctor arrived she had died. Twenty minutes earlier I had been in the ward with her and suddenly that happens. It affects the whole group. It was a very traumatic situation."

However, not all of this unassuming man's experiences have been so heart breaking. He managed to change the life of a 14-year-old boy with just $40.

"He had a walking stick and a limp. The Australian doctors examined him and saw that one leg was shorter than the other, so I took him to the local disability organisation and gave them instructions of what treatment was required.

"He had to have a new pair of shoes so I gave him $30 to go down the market and buy a pair of shoes with his mum. I then paid $10 to have the shoes built up. That was done overnight and the next day there he was with his built-up shoe – no walking stick and learning to walk properly."

The amazing thing about Paul Tye is that he does not like to blow his own trumpet, nor is he after any accolades.

"As a teenager I read a book by Albert Schweitzer, a missionary doctor in Africa. He said that the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve. I'm guess that has just rubbed off on me and I just do what I think most people should do. I find it intensely rewarding."