Students from Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) experienced the challenges of delivering healthcare in a low-income environment when they spent a week in Tanzania where they had the chance to work on public health projects.

First-year medical students Zaid Shahrori, Fawzi Zghyer, Abivarma Chandrakumaran, Sudarshan Srivats, Saad Sameer and fourth-year student Zahra H Rahman spent a week in Mwanza in northern Tanzania, where they worked alongside local medical students and medical residents from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in the US. The students provided volunteer work for Tanzanian initiative called RASA (Reach All, Serve All), a licensed governmental organisation that provides community-screening services to inhabitants that live in remote locations in northern Tanzania in the Lake District that surrounds Lake Victoria.

The team was joined by Swahili-speaking volunteer health care workers and screened more than 1,200 inhabitants who came to one of three mobile clinics, which were set up near schools in the district of Sengeremo and the market place in Mwanza city.

Student Zaid Shahrori said that visiting Tanzania made them realise how fortunate Qatar is for having access to very good healthcare services.

We saw people suffering severely from diseases that are relatively easy and cheap to prevent with vaccinations.’

The WCM-Q students were accompanied by Dr Stella Major, WCM-Q Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Faten Shunnar, Acting Director of Student Affairs.

The Division of Student Affairs at WCM-Q sponsors a number of their students to visit the east African country each year to help them gain a new perspective of global health issues and contribute to health outreach programmes. Tanzania is a resource-poor country where GDP per capita is approximately $1,300 and healthcare facilities are extremely limited. Life expectancy is 51 years. The area that the students visited in Lake Victoria, serves as the main source of water for most of northern Tanzania’s inhabitants, despite being infested with schistosomiasis and bilharzia (parasitic diseases).

For three days, the team conducted screening activities for close to 500 men and women each day. The screenings involved a brief cardiac risk-factor assessment, height and weight check to determine the body mass index, and measurement of blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Patients were counseled on modifiable risk factors, and were referred to receive further care when necessary.

In Mwanza, the students also visited Weill Bugando University College of Health Sciences, a centre of excellence in medical training supported by Weill Cornell. The training centre is affiliated with Bugando Medical Centre, a 900-bed referral hospital, which the students also visited. They learned about the risks that albino communities in East Africa face, and how local security forces work with healthcare agencies to enhance community awareness about albinism, and ensure that these vulnerable communities are cared for by the provision of adequate sun protection treatments, as well as safety from abuse.

Fourth-year medical student Zahra H Rahman said the trip made her feel even more strongly about the importance of global health.

Many of the problems that Tanzania has also affect public health in India, my home country, and this has strengthened my resolve to one day return home to help the people there.’

The team also visited the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, home to lions, black rhinoceros, wildebeest, zebra and gazelles. It is also the location of the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive volcanic crater.

Associate Professor Dr Emily Major said the students gained a great appreciation of Tanzania’s beauty, and an acute understanding of the country’s health issues.

The students learned that if you venture just a little from the tourism spots, you can find some extremely serious public health issues. We are very impressed by their professionalism and compassion.’

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