Medicine & Healthcare in Tanzania by Jack Henderson
I travelled to Arusha, Tanzania in July 2012 as part of a Projects Abroad Medicine 2 Week Special. I chose the placement as it fitted perfectly what I was looking for: it seemed to be an active, relevant and dynamic medical placement in a developing country where volunteers would gain valuable work experience in a new environment, and importantly volunteers would get to interact with patients and provide free healthcare to vulnerable people.
Welcome from Tanzania
I left the comfort and safety of home in Northern Ireland in July and arrived 26 hours later in the small airport of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. The friendly supervisors greeted us immediately and drove us to our group house in the nearby town, which supported 22 medical volunteers. Within our team, there were volunteers from across the globe; Holland, China, England, Canada, Italy, USA and Ireland. It was incredible to meet so many new people, and make connections from across the world.
This diversity within the house brought a huge benefit – not only did I have the opportunity to experience the culture of Tanzania, but I was able to learn about cultures from around the world. The house was very well facilitated, including an instant hot shower, a TV and working toilets! The surrounding town had shops, supermarkets, restaurants (including a burrito bar) and various Wi-Fi hotspots that were invaluable when I wanted to send an email home.
As a keen hockey player, I was delighted to find out that we had access to a gym every day at the local health centre - so I was able to keep fit whilst I was away! The local community were very friendly with the majority speaking very good English and being very helpful.
The Medical Placements
Whilst it may sound like Arusha is a developed town, I was still exposed to the severe poverty of the local area, which I learnt most about through the hospital placements. Every weekday of my placement, a small group of our team went to the local hospital, St Elizabeth, to meet with the doctors, do medical workshops and visit patients in the wards and clinics.
The local doctors were very engaging, spoke very good English and answered all of our questions very well. The medical workshops that took place included family planning, surgery, HIV, TB, tropical diseases and maternity. The workshops were always interactive, with the highlight being during the surgery workshop where I sutured a dead chicken back into one piece and practised my injecting skills on an orange!
During the hospital visits and throughout the workshops I gauged an understanding of the real issues Tanzanian people were struggling with and how the healthcare system forced medical staff to constantly compromise treatments for HIV, TB and malaria because of the shortages of resources.
This project offered the unique opportunity for volunteers to interact with the local community and supply free healthcare to people in local areas. Our team were trained on how to recognise and diagnose basic conditions, deal with First Aid emergencies, dispense appropriate drugs and speak basic Swahili. A group of 11 volunteers operated the small clinic along with the help of a local GP at firstly a rural Maasai village, and secondly at an orphanage in Arusha.
Within the 5 hours of the outreach programme, our small team had registered, diagnosed and supplied suitable free drugs to almost 250 patients. Whilst this was an intense and hectic experience, it developed my ability to work in a closely-knit team, and was my first experience working in a clinical setting. The sense of achievement after leaving the clinics was a feeling I will never forget, and the experience ultimately confirmed my ambitions to become a doctor in the future.
Much of the trip was focused on the medical experience, however, incorporated within every day was an activity such as visiting a snake park, Maasai market shopping, cooking class, drumming and dancing class, and meals out at restaurants. Learning about medicine and the Tanzanian culture was complemented with a mixture of activities that meant there was never a dull or boring moment! A full day safari at Taranagire National Park completed the Tanzanian experience, where we saw zebra, elephants, ostriches and, of course, lions.
The overall experience
The whole experience was hugely beneficial in many ways and I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of a medically related career. This project offers the unique combination of varied social activities, relevant work experience and training, and patient contact that was meaningful and positively impacted the local community.
The experiences, memories and friends that I made during my two weeks in Tanzania will stay with me for a long time and I hope to go back to Arusha in the future as a qualified doctor to work at the hospitals that I visited.