Creating an island community health experience

December 21, 2015

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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Mafia Island beach

Setting up our latest Tanzanian programme on Mafia Island was always going to be a challenge. Contrary to the experiences of the few tourists who come here for a marine reserve that protects whale shark feeding grounds and pristine coral reefs, for the 50,000 Tanzanians who call this home, life is basic.

The largest hospital on the island is Mafia District, but with referral to the mainland meaning a seven-hour boat ride (or a flight far beyond the means of most locals), the demands on the tiny healthcare team are huge. What they achieve with a desperate lack of resources is impressive, and the dedication needed to resist the temptation of higher pay and easier conditions elsewhere is considerable; but the simple fact is that there just isn’t enough money to provide the basic healthcare the islanders need.

“The paradox of living in paradise, but having so little, is easy to miss.”

The paradox of living in paradise, but having so little, is easy to miss being driven from the airfield to a boutique hotel. In the hospital, and the 17 village dispensaries that struggle to support it, this is all too obvious.

Against this backdrop, it was clear we needed a different approach to create the win-win that is so important to every Gap Medics programme. The fees we pay to the hospitals and the health professionals who mentor our students can nearly double the earnings of mentors (creating a big incentive for them to stay) – but with so few resources for them to work with, that isn’t enough on Mafia.

At the petrol station on Mafia Island

Our solution is to create an exclusive experience of island healthcare for just twelve students at a time, compared to our 220 places available in mainland Tanzania, and use this to more than double our usual investment in the hospital. We will begin by funding the salaries of several key personnel – doctors, nurses and dentists – to join the hospital team, and then work closely with the hospital management to provide the most-needed supplies.

Supporting village dispensaries is also critical to improving primary healthcare delivery on Mafia Island, so we are creating a one-week experience that will immerse students in both hospital and village environments to gain a comprehensive understanding. Again our focus will initially be on funding additional key clinical staff to increase basic delivery capacity.

Having just returned from a preliminary setup visit to Mafia with our Tanzania Country Director, Baptista, I can honestly say that – despite the hardships – this is one of the most welcoming of all our destinations. The warmth and genuine hospitality of the islanders made me feel instantly at home. This, combined with the equatorial sunshine and Indian Ocean breeze, make this a pretty special place.

Last but not least, the Gap Medics house we are now in the process of designing will be perhaps our best – and certainly our most eco friendly – yet. Set right on the beach front inside the Marine Park, we will build almost entirely from local, sustainable coconut wood. 100% of our electricity will be from solar power, water from a sustainably engineered borehole (filtered through a reverse osmosis system to make it safe to drink), and a modern technology sewerage system will ensure our only waste into the environment is non-polluting water.

Keep an eye on our blog for more updates as the Mafia project takes place and we aim for our opening in July 2016.

Welcome to Mafia Island!

Dave Brown, Director of Gap Medics

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Gap Medics provides hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations, strengthen university applications and stand out in interviews.