Health Care Systems: England vs. Africa

In my ‘gap yah’ I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone.. *books flights to Africa*. When you pay over £1000 you’d expect to be going somewhere luxurious, or even arrive safely and on time. Much the opposite.
7th August 2013: A huge fire has ravaged the main international airport in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. During an emergency change of landing, we had been informed that the airport staff had been evacuated and that we only had battery power to last 4 hours. Panic.  A few days after schedule, I was taken to St Andrews village in a van which I wasn’t hopeful would make it all the way. I went along as a volunteer for ‘Medic Malawi’, a Shrewsbury based charity. I brought with me some medical supplies and football shirts. I stayed with one of the nurses and her family.

It was a real culture shock; having no hot running water or cooking stoves took a lot of adapting.

Getting used to the daily dose of ‘nsima’ (flour with water) was tough as well as having to be inside the house by 6pm because of the dark and regular electricity cuts. I’ll never forget the early wake up calls by the house girl, when shower time was more like a daily ice bucket challenge.

In the hospital I spent some time in the dental surgery (not for the faint hearted), where I assisted the dentist and kindly turned down the offer of administering local anaesthetic and extracting teeth (although I later realised I was probably just as qualified to do so).

In Malawi, if you’re going to the dentist you’ll come out with at least 1 less tooth than you started with.

The extraction rate there is shocking but sadly, people can’t afford fillings and root canal treatments that are offered in the UK.

For most of the days I went to the lab where I learnt how to test for and diagnose the many malaria cases as well as recording pregnancies and blood disorders. In the pharmacy I distributed medicine capsules into bags as they didn’t have pre-boxed packages like we do. Surprisingly, even in an area where a free healthcare system is needed the most; patients would have to visit ‘the bank’ after a consultation before having treatment.

Walking through the hospital, it wasn’t uncommon to hear screams coming from treatment rooms.

The HIV clinic meant patients could go for counselling and medication. Going through the records and seeing just how many of the population had contracted HIV really shows the difference in health education between developing and developed countries.

Malnutrition is a serious problem in rural Africa and in the nutrition unit you can understand how. After weighing children, administering supplements and distributing bags of flour to expectant mothers, you think twice about wasting food. In the orphanage it’s a very difficult experience. Sadly the only words most of the kids knew in English were “give me money”. We eventually cracked the code for ‘azungo’ meaning ‘white person’. Despite this, we met some great kids and even with the language barrier it was easy to befriend the children.

I am thankful for the patient care given in UK hospitals.

I had the time of my life; being welcomed into the community by strangers and feeling like a celebrity. These people in Mthunthama are special and I’ll continue to support this amazing charity.

Samantha Wake

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