Expedition doctor earns prestigious medical award

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After three decades of helping people around the world, Cochrane Doctor Bill Hanlon is being awarded a prestigious medical award from Ireland that honours those who make exceptional contributions to medicine and society.

“We need to open up to other cultures and not build walls,” Hanlon said, after returning from a recent expedition to Russia.

“What I loved about this trip was it pares down things. You are selective on what you bring and it pares it down to the minimum. Food, shelter, health – the rest is just extra. If we took more to other people in the world, it would make a big difference and not really impact us here.”

Discovering the notification email after his recent trip to Siberia, where the doctor embarked on a 700-km solo trip across Lake Baikal to raise awareness for rural health, Hanlon said he almost trashed the message initially thinking it was spam, not realizing Ireland’s University College Cork was trying to present him with an award.

“It is one of their most prestigious awards and they only give out one a year,” Hanlon said with a humble smile.

Chosen on the basis of his “sustained and excellent track record in travel and tropical medicine and strong charity links” this is the latest addition to Hanlon’s list of awards including the Cochrane Rotary Integrity Award and Humanitarian of the Year award by Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce.

While the doctor said he is honoured to receive the award, he is more excited about the awareness he has been able to raise for the Basic Health International Foundation, a non-profit Hanlon started in 2003 and currently sits on the board as the medical director.

The Foundation develops and supports self-sustainable public and primary health care projects in remote communities.

“My focus of work over the last 30 years has been nomadic people and people who live with animals,” Hanlon explained, in between seeing patients at the Cochrane Primary Care Centre.

“I’m interested in the sense of people, old belief systems and interesting mix of cultures.”

In addition to founding Men’s Health Day in town and as a founding member of the Cochrane Health and Wellness Committee, the doctor has also trekked 700 km across the world’s oldest lake and walked 70 days in Afghanistan to help people at rural clinics – and he wants to continue to raise awareness for rural health and work with people in other countries to create aid programs.

“If we get exposed to other cultures and people, we learn from them and they learn from us,” Hanlon said.

While the doctor said he has nothing on the books for an upcoming trip, he is trying to work his holidays around the May gala date to receive the medical school medal from the University College Cork in person.

“Growing up in Ireland, I have always been interested and curious about things going on beyond our shores and over our small hills,” Hanlon said in a previous alumni letter to UCC.

“Many don’t make the media headlines. This does not negate their great efforts in creating more light than heat in the world.”

For more information on the foundation, go to basichealthinternational.org.

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