According to Western University medical student Odion Kalaci, there is no other way to describe his experience in the United Republic of Tanzania last summer.
Kalaci travelled to the east African nation through the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry’s MedOutreach program. He was one of eight medical, nursing and dental students who travelled to Arusha, a city in the northern part of the country at 1,200 metres above sea level, and about 200 kilometres from Mount Kilimanjaro and the Kenyan border.
There, they worked with Dr. Peter Mahando, a cardiologist who by default ends up serving as a primary care physician in his inpatient and outpatient clinics, and as a visiting physician bringing health care to rural areas.
Students from the UWO faculty of medicine founded MedOutreach in 1986.
Its mandate has been the promotion of primary healthcare principles in developing nations and the enrichment of medical, nursing, and dentistry students in the areas of Global Health and Public and Preventative Health.
After establishing a field of operations in Nigeria and then Haiti for eight years, the MO team of 1994 moved the project to northern Tanzania due to “political reasons.”
The team works at Knoranga Lutheran Hospital, Children for Children's Future (a centre for homeless youth), Upendo HIV group, Upendo Leprosy Home, the SDA Dental Clinic, Engira and Bondeni clinics, and various primary and secondary schools in Arusha.
Kalaci, who plans to graduate in 2015, said working in the outlying areas of the Arusha region, where he helped treat people who would never had access to health care otherwise, impacted him the most.
“We would take a truck and visit people with no way to get to the hospital,” he told London Community News. “Some of them had severe conditions related to diabetes, one guy was actually blind. It was the most remote area to country.”
They also treated a lot of cases of malaria, dealt with surgeries and deliveries.
In order to send a mission to Tanzania, the MedOutreach program and the eight students have to raise $60,000 each year.
Visit www.medoutreach.ca to donate.
Kalaci said he plans to return to Tanzania to do more of that rural outreach work once he is a physician.
“A lot of us have considered going back on own,” he said. “I would want to go back on my own when I’m a physician so I can be independent, explore some of these remote communities that don’t get care otherwise. This was definitely the most unique opportunity for me to learn so far.”
He was impressed with the level of care provided in the Arusha hospital he worked in.
“I got to see a lot of things,” he said. “I saw some of surgeries, scrubbed into some of them. I’ve seen the OR over here and the OR over there and it’s actually pretty good. It’s not same standard as over here, but I was pretty impressed at how sterile the one doctor running everything in the hospital tries to keep everything.”
Kalaci has travelled to South Africa as well. He said the biggest surprise for him was the people.
It was how friendly and welcoming they were, and how happy they were to have us there,” he said. “That was definitely one of the biggest shocks, how well we were received.”
That’s something first year medical student Neila Bazaracai is looking forward to. She is fundraising now as part of the 2013 MedOutreach team.
“There certainly is pressure on to fundraise as much as possible,” she said. "Because we've been going there for so long, the communities we work with have really come to rely on us and expect us every year.”
Some of the money goes to scholarships for high school students, some to medical supplies and equipment patients there wouldn’t otherwise have the benefit of.
“This year, for instance, part of our money is going towards a specific part that is needed for the only echocardiogram machine in the region,” she explained. “Without our funding, this entire area wouldn't have access to the machine.”
Assuming everything goes well financially, Bazaracai will be joined by fellow medical students Tinya Lim and Erica Hoe, nursing students Olivia Varriano, Gareth Michaels, and Sarah Prescott, and dentistry students Sam Goodman and Shannon Munsie.
“The sad reality is that the vast majority of people in the world aren't as fortunate as we are, and I think the least we can do is give back in whatever way we can,” Bazaracai said. “What is unique about the MedOutreach program is that it's so long-standing. We go back to the same places year after year building on previous teams' work to promote sustainable health practices. We also learn invaluable lessons about health care from the Tanzanian medical professionals that we would otherwise not have been able to experience.”