Posted on January 16, 2019

The life-changing experiences of a group of ten medical students on a service learning trip to Tanzania have been shared in a book compiled by Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) professor Dr. Dietrich Büsselberg.

The 154-page book, entitled Experiencing Tanzania: Reflections of a Medical Service Learning Trip Through the Eyes of Aspiring Physicians, features articles by students recounting their impressions of the east African country, its people, wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes, and the challenges of providing healthcare in a low-resource setting. The book is illustrated with more than 300 photographs taken by Dr. Büsselberg, a keen amateur photographer, who accompanied the students on the ten-day trip. He captured the students as they toured the country helping to provide free health checks for local people, as well as viewing the spectacular scenery and a wealth of exotic animals including lions, cheetahs, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles and elephants, among many others.

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Dr. Büsselberg, professor of physiology and biophysics, said: “Tanzania is an extraordinary country of incredible natural beauty, but it is also a low-income country where accessing healthcare is often very difficult for the majority of the population. This contrast between natural beauty and hardship made for some quite profound experiences for the students, fundamentally altering their perception of what it means to be a doctor and a healer. I wanted to record those experiences for posterity and to inspire others, and these were the reasons for creating the book.”

The service learning trip to Tanzania took place in the summer of 2018 and was supported by WCM-Q’s Student Affairs Division. During the trip, the group visited Arusha and Moshi in the north east of the country, and spent time interacting with local people in their homes, businesses, a local hospital, schools and an orphanage. They also visited three national parks: Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, home of the famed Ngorongoro Crater. The articles, written by both students and local professionals, explain the social, economic and cultural context of Tanzania, the difference between urban and rural lifestyles, the lives of the Maasai people, the system of national parks and their role in protecting the flora and fauna of the country, the scourge of poaching, and the major public health challenges facing the country.

With a GDP of $900 per capita, Tanzania struggles to provide basic healthcare to its people. Student Mohammad A. Salameh of the Class of 2022 wrote: “Proper and comprehensive care for the ill is so difficult to obtain there that illness meant suffering and would usually only get worse. In fact, around 85 percent of the Tanzanian population will never see a doctor in their entire life.” Reflecting on the difference between the facilities in Qatar and Tanzania, he added: “We, as residents of developed countries, must aspire to become global citizens who connect and empathize with people of different backgrounds. We must understand that we have a duty to ensure that every human is free to enjoy their fundamental right to healthcare.”

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Student Narjis Mhaimeed of the Class of 2022 wrote of the stunning natural beauty of the parks and the wildlife, but also noted: “Unfortunately, these wonders of nature are not as safe as one would hope them to be. Poaching has been a huge, ongoing issue. The elephant population declined by 60 percent in five years, from 109,051 in 2009 to 43,521 in 2014. Lions are also in grave danger - the number of lions has dropped from 25,000 in 2010 to 16,000 currently. It is important we all spread awareness to keep Mother Nature intact.”

Further articles were penned by WCM-Q students Dabin Chung, Omar Mhaimeed, Safah Khan, Jasna Chalangal, Nasser Al-Kuwari, M. Fatin Ishtiaq, Abdallah Elshafeey, and Omar Al-Bashtawi. Student academic counselor Steven Stay, who also accompanied the students on the trip, contributed the concluding article of the book, while Dr. Büsselberg wrote the foreword.

The book was published and printed in Doha and is hosted online on Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press’ academic platform, QScience.com, an open access, peer-reviewed, online publishing platform that offers a unique and collaborative research environment for academics and scientists in Qatar and the rest of the world.

The online edition can be viewed at http://qscience.com/page/books/wcm-Students-Tanzania?curlLocale=4 

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