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Bright Idea

First Aid Faster

Jared Sun offers African townspeople help with EMT instruction.

Hannelie Coetzee

LESS MEAN STREETS: Sun started training first responders in Manenberg, a township considered a locus of gang violence in Cape Town.

By Corinne Purtill

In many parts of the developing world—places where there are no trained paramedics and no roads for an ambulance to travel—a traumatic injury is as good as a death sentence. Jared Sun, '09, thinks it doesn't have to be.

With a professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Sun has created a system of emergency medical training viewed as a model for developing countries, where about 90 percent of the world's trauma-related deaths occur. Thanks to the program's success in the Cape Flats region of Cape Town, local governments in South Africa and beyond are looking to implement the system.

Sun, 24, trained as an emergency medical technician (EMT) during high school in Fullerton, Calif. In spring 2008 he traveled to Cape Town with a pilot class in Stanford's overseas studies program there. (During orientation, the students toured Guguletu township, where anti-apartheid activist Amy Biehl, '89, was killed in 1993. Their guide was Mzikhona "Easy" Nofemela, one of four youths convicted and later granted amnesty for Biehl's murder.) Sun was shocked to learn that practically no emergency medical services were available in the townships, meaning that many died for want of basic first aid.

Sun and five other Stanford students designed and taught a first-aid course in Manenberg, a nearby township rife with gang violence. On the first day, their South African students shared personal stories that "just stopped me in my tracks," Sun said. One woman's son had died in her arms. Another student's cousin had been shot just weeks before.

After returning to the United States, Sun received an email from Lee Wallis, the head of emergency medicine at the University of Cape Town. Wallis asked if Sun would return to South Africa to help set up an emergency medical system.

Traumatic and violent injury is endemic in South Africa, says Cleeve Robertson, head of emergency medical services of the Western Cape province in South Africa. The nation's rates of murder and fatal traffic accidents are among the world's highest. South Africa has no central emergency system like America's 911 number, and its few ambulances mean response times can stretch to an hour.

A survey Sun and Wallis undertook in the townships found an overwhelming sense of frustration and despair over the lack of emergency care in the poorest neighborhoods. "I feel so bad when I see someone is stabbed and waiting for an ambulance," one responder noted. "The people just watch and they don't know what to do."

With the support of a Fulbright Scholarship, Sun returned to Cape Town in November 2009 and enrolled as the University of Cape Town's first master's student in emergency medicine. Wallis praises him as "passionate and driven" and someone who "wants to make a difference in people's lives."

Sun and his colleagues created the Emergency First Aid Responder System. When a person in a township suffers a medical emergency such as a gunshot wound or a heart attack, a local EFAR-trained medic rushes to the scene to provide care until the victim can be taken to the hospital. EFAR has trained more than 1,000 first responders.

Last summer, Sun helped Columbia University set up a similar emergency response program in Ghana that the nation's ministry of health now wants to adopt as its own. EFAR is also in talks with officials in Haiti, Tanzania, Rwanda and other South African townships about launching the program there. "I expect [EFAR] to become the corner piece of any emergency care system in sub-Saharan African countries," Wallis says.

In August, Sun began medical school at Yale University, where he plans to pursue a simultaneous MBA. "My ultimate goal is to someday stop all preventable emergency deaths all over the world," he says. "I don't see why I should shoot for anything less."

Corinne Purtill, '02, is a freelance writer based in London.


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