VSO ­ Volunteers

Tim Baker - Preparing to Depart for Africa

My name is Tim Baker. I’m in the last stages of preparing to leave for Tanzania where I will be a VSO volunteer. I would like to introduce myself to you and explain a little about what I expect to be doing in Tanzania.

I am 29 years old and have worked as a doctor for 5 years. Originally from Brighton, I moved to Sheffield to study medicine and qualified in 1999. During my years in Sheffield I became increasingly interested in International Health issues. At a conference in Greece I met a wonderful Swedish student, Ulrika, who has since become my fiancée and will be working alongside me in Tanzania. more

Since graduating I have been working as an anaesthetist in Stockholm, Sweden. I have completed 3_ years of the 5 year specialist training and have a good all-round base in anaesthetics and intensive care. I have also worked briefly in a clinic in Thailand for Burmese Refugees and in the autumn of 2004 I took a diploma in International Health at Uppsala University. Ulrika has recently completed her medical training and became a registered doctor in December. Now that we’re both “ready” we’re seizing the chance to head off to Africa and realise our dreamÉ

We had heard many good things about VSO and applied to be volunteers in May last year. It’s an organisation that suits us well, as they send doctors and other professionals on long term development-orientated placements and are willing to send couples. We were accepted as volunteers and offered placements at St Joseph’s Hospital in Peramiho, Tanzania.

St Joseph’s Hospital is a big, tertiary referral hospital that serves the large Ruvuma region in Southern Tanzania. It is a relatively well equipped hospital, with 420 beds offering curative, preventative and rehabilitative services. My role is that of Medical Doctor and Anaesthetics Adviser. I will be based in the department of Intensive Care, and will have frequent contact with the other medical doctors and surgeons. 4000 operations are carried out each year at St Josephs and yet there is presently only one Anaesthetist.

Part of my role will be clinical. I will help care for the inpatients in the medical wards and intensive care department. I will also carry out an audit of existing facilities in the anaesthetics and intensive care departments and see what improvements can be made. It is expected that a large part of my job will be training. Training the local doctors in anaesthetics and intensive care, and training local staff and possibly even local communities in emergency first aid.

On a day-to-day basis I am expected to be self-sufficient and work as an independent doctor. However the environment will be so different from at home that I can imagine the first few months will be a lot about settling in and learning the ropes. The working language is Swahili, and I have begun learning the basics from books and a CD-ROM at home. Not an easy language! The diseases I will encounter are also very different from those I see in Europe, and the resources and drugs available to me will be extremely limited.

I see this as a fantastic challenge. Mortality from operations has declined drastically in Europe in the past 100 years, and this is largely due to the advances made in anaesthetics. Good knowledge of physiology, monitoring of patients during operations, availability of oxygen, suction devices, anaesthetics machines and safe and effective drugs are to name but a few developments that allow extremely complicated surgery to succeed. A typical patient in a European operating theatre will be connected to a myriad of machines and monitors, continually watched by doctors and nurses, and kept asleep and comfortable by expensive and safe medicines. In the whole of St Josephs there is one heart monitor and one respirator, and the anaesthetic gases they use are Halothane and Ether, both now obsolete in Europe. If I can improve the situation, even in a small way, I can make a big difference to the patients in St Josephs.

Ulrika will also work as a Medical Doctor but will have a special role as an HIV/AIDS Home Based Care Adviser. As well as her clinical duties, she will build up a team that can go out into the community and care for patients with HIV and AIDS. This will be a vital improvement to St Joseph’s HIV care. The overall rate of HIV in the region is approximately 11% and it’s impossible to care for all those in need in the hospital. HIV/AIDS is rapidly becoming an enormous strain on Tanzania’s already stretched resources, and it presents a phenomenal challenge for the health sector. Ulrika has always had an interest in HIV, and carried out a research project in Uganda in 2002 concerning the use of the new antiretroviral drugs. In Tanzania less than 0.5% of those who clinically need the drugs are currently receiving them. Ulrika may find that part of her job is to try and improve access to these drugs.

Time to get back to my packing and vaccinations! We’re leaving on the 5th March, and I will be in touch again once I have settled into my new job.

Thanks for taking an interest in my work and the efforts of VSO,

Yours, Tim


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