Riti Desai - Medicine Elective in Tanzania
So finals were finally out of the way and I was ready for my elective! I had always planned on going to Africa, both to travel and to experience medicine. When one of my friends recommended the Projects Abroad Tanzania Medicine programme I was quite ecstatic, as it was the perfect opportunity and timing to combine the two. Now all that was left was to grab my stethoscope, clothes and my DSLR!
When we arrived at Kilimanjaro airport, we were greeted by one of the co-ordinators at Projects Abroad who made us feel really comfortable and gave us a brief overview of the placement during the drive to our host family’s house. Part of me was listening and the rest of me was too busy staring out of the window and taking in the view. Everything was so green! This is not how I had imagined Tanzania to be, but it was a pleasant surprise.
My host family
We arrived at the host family house and were welcomed by Jaslene, who was the daughter of the host (Mama Salma). She showed us around the house, which was a bungalow with three rooms. One of the rooms was half occupied by a volunteer on the Teaching programme, who had been volunteering for six months!
I really enjoyed living with this host family. I got to experience several of the local delicacies including ugali, makande and banana curry. We also got a variety of fresh fruits on a daily basis, including avocado, which was my favourite! As it was monsoon season during our time in Arusha, we were unfortunate enough to experience a few days without electricity, which meant we had to have bucket showers in the mornings and candle light dinners in the evenings! Although at the time it was frustrating, thinking back to it now, it was an experience in itself!
My elective placement was at a local, government run hospital called Mount Meru. During my placement I rotated around two specialties: obstetrics and internal medicine. Luckily for me, most of the staff could speak English, although I had learnt a few Swahili words so I was able to get by!
The labour ward was such a different experience. I particularly enjoyed my time in the internal medicine ward. Unfortunately and as expected, there were several cases of HIV and AIDS, complicated by infections rarely seen in England such as toxoplasmosis and cytomegalovirus. The doctors were fantastic and were willing to teach us, as well as share their experiences. Being a final year medical student, I was able to examine patients and write in the notes, actively manage and write discharge summaries. I truly felt I was contributing to the system.
Furthermore, with Projects Abroad we had the opportunity to go to a school and provide free medication. This was such a great initiative for the children and a good way for us to interact with other volunteers on the Medicine programme. With the help of other volunteers and the coordinators, we were able to go to an orphanage and give a few donations. It was lovely to see the support and facilities available to these children.
During the weekends, we had the opportunity to take part in some of the tourist activities. I had heard from people who had previously been to Tanzania that the safari was exceptional, so we spent one weekend in Terengeri national park and Ngorongoro crater. It was breath-taking to be so close to the animals in their natural habitat. We also climbed part way up Kilimanjaro (in the rain), which was exhausting but an achievement! There was plenty of time to do some shopping and explore other towns surrounding Arusha, such as Moshi.
All in all I had a fantastic time in Tanzania. The Projects Abroad co-ordinators and the host family were brilliant throughout my placement. I was lucky enough to encounter the country both as a local (you really get used to riding the dala dala every day!) and a tourist. It is an experience I will never forget!