Monday, July 6, 2009

Preparing to go to Tanzania

As part of my residency training, I have the fortunate opportunity to work abroad and learn more about providing healthcare in low resource areas. This September I will be going to Shirati, Tanzania to work in a district hospital for four weeks. I have started this blog to share my experiences during this trip with friends, family, co-residents, and anyone else who may be interested.

Shirati Hospital

Since I began medical school my intention has always been to serve in low-resource areas, in international settings where medical access is scarce. So I'm really looking forward to this trip, which will be my first opportunity to work internationally after medical school. I will be working and training in Tanzania under Dr. Chirangi, the Chief Medical Officer of Shirati Hospital. I initially got in contact with him through Nishant Shah, one of the fabulous recent graduates from the residency program who worked in Shirati Hospital as a 3rd year resident. Dr. Chirangi has been very warm and inviting, and welcomed me with open arms to come spend time working with him at Shirati.

In preparation for my September visit, I’ve read about healthcare needs in Tanzania and talked with Dr. Chirangi about specific needs in Shirati. I’ve also been working with one of my wonderful co-residents, Blair Thedinger, to look into ways to bring much needed medical supplies and money donations to Shirati when I make the trip. (Blair is going to Uganda next month and is doing parallel work to bring vital supplies to the hospital he'll be visiting in Tororo). I’ve contacted a non-profit called MedShare International that helps to collect donatable medical supplies in the United States and distribute them to medically underserved areas around the world. With their help, I plan on packing extra bags with me on the plane stuffed full of 100 lbs or more of the critical medical supplies that Dr. Chirangi has told me the hospital needs most.

In order to help fund acquisition and delivery of these supplies, I’m welcoming donations from anyone who is interested. You’ll see at the top of the blog a “Donate” button from PayPal, which you can use to make a safe, online donation with any major credit card. All of this money will go directly toward the delivery of critical medical supplies and purchase of vital medications for Shirati Hospital. I’m not a 501(c)(3) and so I can’t give you any tax deduction, but I can give you my assurance that all this money will be used for these direct purposes. I’ve already paid for my travel and will not be using ANY of this donated money to pay for travel expenses. Any donation, big or small, helps immensely. Estimates for reference:
$10 - Helps the hospital provide life saving vaccines to 10 children
$25 – Gets 15 pounds of critical supplies to the hospital from the US
$50 - Provides inpatient antibiotic treatment to 10 patients.

Ward at Shirati

Shirati Hospital is located in northwestern Tanzania along Lake Victoria near the Kenyan border. It is 2 hours from the closest town and 5 hours from the nearest main city. 80 percent of the population it serves lives below the UN poverty line. It began as a Mennonite mission hospital in 1935, and has grown to include a wide range of inpatient and outpatient services. The inpatient hospital has 150 beds, which are often filled to capacity and at times are shared by more than one patient. Services include general surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics (including C-sections), HIV clinics, antenatal care, basic lab and pharmacy. Some of the more common illnesses seen include malaria, HIV, TB, and diarrhea. There is an operating room and they regularly perform a wide range of general surgery procedures and C-sections. Medical supplies are always in high demand. As Dr. Chirangi explains, “…several things are missing, and we run on a shortage of supplies.” Items most needed include basic materials such as surgical sutures, needle driver, surgical scrub materials, blood pressure machines, laryngoscopes (for intubation), pain medicines and antibiotics.

I hope to update this blog during my travels with stories and (if possible) pictures. I will also send updates to any people interested in donating to let you know how the supplies have been used, and what impact your donations have made.