Medicine & Healthcare in Tanzania by Kieran Dash
I decided to volunteer with Projects Abroad in Tanzania for a month in the summer of 2013. My main aim of my trip was to gain as much hands on experience as possible before applying to university to study Medicine.
Arriving in Tanzania
I set off for Arusha Tanzania in July excited, but at the same time quite nervous of what was in front of me. However from landing in Tanzania I was warmly welcomed by everyone on the ground, with a Projects Abroad coordinator at the airport to pick me up and take me to my host family. On arrival to my host family treated me marvelously with food provided all-day long. The host family I stayed with had children and relatives of a similar age to myself so I found it very easy to integrate into the family and find topics to talk about, which mainly seemed to be football.
After being introduced into my new home and the town I had the chance to meet all the other volunteers with Projects Abroad at the weekly social. This was backed up by going on my first medical outreach clinic the following day with all the other medical volunteers. The outreach was out in the sticks where there was no access to healthcare, this was a very useful and interesting experience as many of the patients did not speak English and so we had difficulty trying to register their name and age. But being able to get into the doctors’ surgery and see some of the complex issues arising, such as skin infections that would never be seen in the UK, was invaluable.
My Medicine Project
My medical placement was based at West Meru Hospital just 10km out of Arusha town. Getting onto the dala-dala every morning provided a lot of entertainment and was a very cheap way of getting around town and to my project. I was initially placed in the male ward, however after a few days after building up a relationship with the doctors at morning meetings I had the freedom to choose where I could go in the hospital. This was great as I managed to go into the minor surgery department where I managed to get a lot of hands on experience.
I made really great friends with the doctors and nurses in all departments, which led to me being trusted in performing some procedures on my own for example I was allowed to apply a plaster cast to correct a 5-day-old baby’s clubfoot. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity and was privileged to do something like this and I have been struck how I have had a positive impact on this person’s life. Also in the area where the hospital was, road collisions were quite common and so in the minor surgery I managed to get involved taking x-rays of limbs and then after generating the x-ray image, applying the plaster cast to correct the problem.
During my placement I went into all the departments within the hospital including child ward, female ward and physiotherapy departments whilst also helping at diabetic and HIV clinics. The experience I had working in a hospital in Tanzania was vastly different to my experiences in UK hospitals and GP practices as some of the facilities were basic, however the doctors did not complain about this and used the equipment available.
The patients were so much more appreciative of any help that doctors could give them. I managed to find out prior to my trip that in Tanzania that the availability of spectacles was limited and so I managed to collect together roughly 1000 pairs of glasses to take to Tanzania with me to donate to the main hospital in Arusha.
Travelling in Tanzania
During my placement I managed to get a couple of days off and over a long weekend went on a Safari to Taringere Nation Park, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti. This was an opportunity as I had never been to Africa before so the chance to go on a safari was really exciting seeing all the animals you could think of at such close quarters.
The spare time I got away from the hospital during my project was either spent in the town with other Projects Abroad volunteers visiting the local markets, in coffee shops or at the social events arranged by the Projects Abroad team or with my host family chatting, watching films or exploring more of the town. During my time away from the hospital I also kept in regular contact with the doctors even meeting up with one doctor for a drink at the weekend.
The Projects Abroad staff in Arusha were very helpful to me especially up to me leaving as my flight back home was a connecting flight through Nairobi airport, Kenya. However 4 days before I left the airport had burnt down and been closed and so the Projects Abroad staff kept me up to date with the situation as we were unsure whether I would have to get a different flight back to the UK. It also happened to be a national holiday on this day however the Projects Abroad staff were still around to help me.
My time in Arusha really helped me grow as a person having to communicate with local people from all different social backgrounds and with volunteers from all around the world. The placement and experience I gained through my hospital placement has really helped improve my CV and also in my application to study medicine in the UK. However the biggest thing for me was the friends and contacts I made whilst being out in Arusha, for example I am in regular contact with my host family seeing how things in their lives are progressing and they are still extremely interested in what I am doing now I am back in the UK.