My eye-opening midwifery placement in Tanzania

on 23 April 2019

Emily is a 3rd-year midwifery student from the Anglia Ruskin University. She recently travelled to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on a three-week midwifery elective placement to see the differences between healthcare in the UK and in the developing world.

Ever since I was little, I’d always wanted to travel to Africa. When the opportunity to go on an elective placement came up in my second year as a student midwife, I didn’t give it a second thought.

The idea of going on a three-week placement to Tanzania alone was daunting at first, but looking back it was very easy.

The airport in Dar es Salaam was manic, but everyone was very friendly, even if it was a bit daunting. Most people spoke at least a little English, which helped.

During my first day in Dar es Salaam, the team at Work the World (the organisation I travelled with) took me on an orientation around the city.

They took me to my placement hospital too. We travelled by ‘dala dala’ — the local minibus, which was an experience to say the least. It was overcrowded, most people had to stand up and it was very hot!

When we got to the hospital, all of the staff greeted me at the door. They were all lovely and spoke fairly good English. They wanted to know all about midwifery practice in the UK, and I had lots of questions for them, which they answered happily.

We also went for a meal in one of the local restaurants, which was my first chance to taste some Tanzanian food. The food was amazing and everyone was friendly.

My first week of placement was busy. I was based on the labour ward where I observed caesarean sections and lots of vaginal deliveries.

The wards were seriously understaffed, so I helped do what I could within my scope of practise.

I weighed babies, supported labouring women and helped complete patient documentation.

The first few days were a challenge — the care was so different to back home, and the women didn’t receive any pain relief. I just told myself that this was local culture and the women were clearly grateful for any care they received.

I split my second week between the labour, antenatal and postnatal wards.

The postnatal ward was overcrowded and sometimes had three to four women (with their babies) per bed.

The antenatal ward was also very busy. A lot of the women had delivered their babies before they arrived at the labour ward as they were aware there weren’t enough beds.

The local hospital staff really supported me during my two weeks with them. They were all friendly and taught me a lot, helping me learn about local practises and also how to get by with so few resources.

I thoroughly enjoyed my placement and was sad that I had to move on. Before I left, I gifted the ward some boxes of gloves, scrubs that I no longer needed, rolls of apron, hand sanitiser and packets of antiseptic wipes.

The placement was challenging, but rewarding. And I found it important to have some time to chill and clear my head.

After placement, I caught up with my housemates to find out how their respective days went. There was a pool at the Work the World house too, and we made good use of it.

We went to karaoke at the local beach on Wednesday evenings, and had a weekly BBQ on Thursdays. The house catering team cooked all the food and it was always delicious.

We went to local markets and travelled over to Bongoyo Island too. There was a beach at the end of the street we lived on and we’d walk there when we felt like it. There were always lots of children playing in the sea. There were a few bars along the beach too.

I was even lucky enough to go on a weekend safari. I went with three housemates and it was amazing.

I spent my third and final week on Work the World’s Village Healthcare Experience. It was an 8-hour coach journey into the heart of rural Tanzania.

I travelled with two other girls I had met in the Work the World house, and the three of us lived with a local Tanzanian family of two small children and their parents. They couldn’t speak much English, but they spoke enough to be able to have a conversation.

We spent mornings in the village hospital, learning about HIV medication, providing antenatal care and vaccinations to babies, and spent time in the pharmacy.

In the afternoons, someone from the family we were staying with walked us back to the house for lunch. We joined in on cultural activities. We visited a traditional healer, cycled through sugar plantations, visited local schools, and swam in nearby waterfalls.

My three week trip to Tanzania was the best experience of my life. I learnt so much about myself and how lucky we are in the UK to have the NHS. I met some amazing people on my trip and will forever treasure the memories we made.

Work the World specialise in tailoring overseas midwifery placements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their destinations provide eye-opening insight into the challenges associated with delivering healthcare in the developing world.