Global health in Africa: the Hehe tribe

February 9, 2021

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

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Explore global health in Africa as a premed or prehealth student to get a worldly perspective. Our global health experience program in Tanzania gives you the chance to explore the cultural heritage of tribes and shadow medical doctors at local health centers.

Traditional healers in Africa play an important role in healthcare for many rural communities. The Hehe tribe are native to the Iringa region of Tanzania, and will be one of the tribes you get to spend a day with as you learn from a traditional healer and explore their way of life. 

As a doctor, nurse, physician assistant, or midwife, having a global health perspective as you head into your career will be of great benefit. We all understand the importance of international healthcare, especially as in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. We have explored the benefits of understanding the cultural heritage of a community, like that of the Hehe tribe, so that you can see the value of global health as a future healthcare professional

Global health experience in Africa

Africa is a large continent with diverse public health issues. Many of these issues, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, are less common in the western world or more easily treatable. 

This makes Africa a unique location for pre-med and prehealth students who are looking to get global health experience. You can observe cases that you may not otherwise see in your home country. 

According to the World Health Organization, of the number of people with HIV/AIDS, 60 percent of them live on the African continent. Additionally, more than 90 percent of all malaria cases worldwide occur in Africa. 

Access to healthcare remains one of the most significant public health challenges. For example, fewer than 50% of Africans have access to modern healthcare facilities. 

As a premed student on our global health experience program, you will be able to shadow a doctor at a local Tanzanian healthcare center to see just what kinds of cases they deal with. These healthcenteres are a primary point of care as they handle vaccinations, prenatal checkups, and HIV/AIDs patient checkups. 

But they also handle a wide range of other medical cases such as trauma injuries, births, diabetic complications, and much more. If a health care center is unable to handle a medical issue, they will refer the patient to a regional hospital. 

Community healthcare can begin at the health center, but some patients in more rural communities may seek treatment at other facilities first. In Tanzania, there are dispensaries which occasionally have a clinical officer on staff to make recommendations and hand out medications.

Another point of care are the traditional healers in tribal communities. The Hehe, for example, have traditional healers as part of their cultural heritage. These healers handle spiritual issues as well as physical health issues. Sometimes patients come to them after already attempting western medical treatments, other times healers in the community are easier to access than traveling to a modern healthcare facility.

Getting global health experience in Africa is a challenging but amazing learning opportunity. As a premed or prehealth student, you may practice within your home country, but encounter patients from all over the world and from backgrounds different than your own. 

Culture has a significant impact on medicine within communities. A part of understanding public and global health issues is understanding the role different factors play in healthcare and behavior change. This is why you will observe healthcare from many different perspectives on our program in Tanzania. 

Medicine in the Hehe tribe

The Hehe tribe are one of over a hundred ethnic and tribal groups that live in Tanzania. However, the Hehe are native to the country with an estimated population over one million. 

The Hehe rely heavily on farming and keep some livestock, although not as much as the Maasai. They have adopted more modern practices, but tribal healers are one of the traditions that have stood the test of time.

When exploring the public health issues that are affecting a country and certain populations, it’s important to examine all determinants. That’s why learning about the environment and the way of life is essential to gaining that perspective. 

You will spend one day with the Hehe tribe. Through a translator, you will be able to ask questions about what kinds of cases the traditional healer sees. He will also show you some of his treatment methods.

During our visit to the Hehe tribe, we spoke with a healer who said many women come to him with fertility issues. He explained one of his treatment methods involves women digging a hole, urinating in the hole, and then planting a tree. Gesturing to the many trees surrounding his house and treatment area, he said all of these trees were from women he had helped with fertility issues. 

He also explained that some people come to him to ask for help with financial issues or family problems. Sometimes people believe they have been cursed by someone else, in which case the healer can help them remove it. 

Because it’s important to understand the whole picture, you will also explore the village on our global health experience program. You can view the houses and the food, as all of these environmental factors impact the kinds of healthcare issues the Hehe experience.

As a healthcare professional, you may work within different healthcare settings. Getting a well-rounded perspective about the community you work in can help you connect with your patients and give them better care. 

By exploring the culture in Tanzania, and the Hehe tribe, you will be able to better analyze cultural settings and ask questions that help you understand your patients. 

Public health crises affect different communities, even within your home country. Shadowing a doctor and observing community healthcare from all aspects will make you become a successful medical professional. Additionally, these kinds of first-hand experiences can help you stand out from the crowd of other medical school applicants

If you are interested in getting global health experience in Africa or shadowing a doctor on hospital frontlines, we hope you consider one of our programs.