Articles and Case Studies

My Elective - Tanzania 2012

27 May 2012

Having successfully overcome our final med exams, the two of us jetted out to sunny Tanzania to spend a very enjoyable and educational five weeks at the Machame Lutheran Hospital over the summer of 2011/12.

Member Name/s: Michael Weightman (MBBS VI) and Justin Mencel (MBBS VI)
Machame Lutheran Hospital
Length of elective:
5 weeks

Situated in the rainforest on the picturesque slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania, the Machame Hospital is a 120-bed facility that provides essential healthcare to a catchment of over 150,000 people. Sadly, it is both under-staffed and under-resourced, limiting the services it can provide. Despite this, the people were exceptionally friendly and welcoming and we were made to feel like one of the locals!

Working in Tanzania

We were lucky to be in Machame, as the hospital was a bustling hive of activity providing us with a taste of Tanzanian medical, surgical and obstetric services. We were able to get involved in all daily activities of the hospital, including attending clinics, contributing to ward rounds, assisting in surgery and going on outreach clinics. Probably the biggest problem here was HIV/AIDS, which is conservatively estimated to affect 7% of the population and our time spent in the hospital’s HIV clinics was certainly an eye-opening experience. We had the opportunity to do much more than just HIV testing though, with the highlight being the outreach clinic where we travelled into the village to encourage the sick to come to hospital for treatment. We were invited into many people’s homes (often simple mudhuts) and got a real insight into how people live and the symptoms that people are prepared to put up with.

Challenges working in Tanzania

One challenge we faced was the language, as most patients could not speak English. We managed to pick up a fair bit of Swahili along the way, as anyone we met was always keen to teach us new phrases. By the time we left, we were able to hold brief simple conversations, buy our fruit and veggies at the local market, and we could even take a brief medical history in Swahili.

Travel opportunities

Tanzania is an unrivalled destination for travellers and we were certainly not disappointed, getting to see some amazing places and meet many special people along the way. One of the undoubted highlights was our six-day trek to the snowy peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest point of Africa. The scenery was breathtaking and reaching the summit stands as one of our proudest achievements. We finished up by spending a relaxing week on the island paradise of Zanzibar, immersing ourselves in the local culture and enjoying the fine cuisine. In Machame itself, we had the privilege of being invited as guests of honour to some of the important village occasions, such as a baptism and Christmas celebrations. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and hospitable to us and we were always treated as special guests. We also had the opportunity to spend some time at the local orphanage, where we were able to play games with the kids and hopefully brighten their day.

Making a difference in Tanzania

With the support of MDA National, we have raised almost $4000 to fulfil the need at the Machame Hospital for stethoscopes, sphygmomanometers and glucometers. We also have sourced various surgical equipment and HIV medication in Adelaide.

My recommendation

We had a brilliant exposure to tropical medicine and an excellent grounding in global health. This experience has help change our perspective on medicine and what we take for granted in Australia. We would strongly recommend anyone to go to Tanzania, both for the medical experience and to be immersed in the Tanzanian culture. It is an amazing country and an experience that we will take with us always.



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