What happens if you get sick? Healthcare in Tanzania

Authored by:
Harry L.

Harry L.
When traveling, illness is always a risk. Whether you’re going to London or Dar, there’s a chance that you’ll eat something that doesn’t agree with you, pick up a cold from riding public transit, or encounter a new disease that challenges your immune system. One of my best friends became terribly ill after eating a pizza in Rome—a city that where I wouldn’t hesitate to eat something from a street seller. Although Tanzania has some diseases that we’re not used to in the West, Tanzanians have been living with them for many, many years. Before my first trip to Tanzania, I shared my fears of malaria with one of my Tanzanian friends, who I’d met at college. I told her that I wasn’t sure if my anti-malarial medication would be effective and that I was afraid of getting malaria.
 
She looked at me like I had 3 heads. Shaking her head, she sighed and said, “I’ve had malaria more times than I can count. Each time, I start to feel a little unwell, so I go to the clinic and get the medication I need. I’m back to normal in a couple of days.” While I wouldn’t advocate for such a laid-back attitude to malaria (taking the anti-malarial prophylaxis is important!), it does point to the wide gulf between our Western attitudes to developing world disease and the perceptions of those who deal with these diseases on a day to day basis.
 
Every semester during orientation, our director, Justin, gives a long briefing about health and safety in Tanzania. He explains that, with the right precautions, one can live in Tanzania healthily and safely. I would emphasize the phrase, “with the right precautions.” One of those precautions is not using tap water to rinse your toothbrush. When I first arrived in Tanzania, I completely ignored that particular instruction. As a result, I earned the unwelcome title of the first person to get sick.
 
The thought of going to the clinic was intimidating. I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, the process was easy. In Iringa, CIEE students use the IMECC Clinic, which our team has found to have the best medical staff and lab facilities. Medical education in Tanzania is taught entirely in English, so all doctors are bi-lingual, which certainly makes it easier to explain your symptoms!
 
The clinic process is straight-forward:
 

Step 1

Register at the front desk


Step 2

The receptionist gives you a payment slip, which you take to the cashier and pay for the doctor’s visit. Most initial consultations cost between $4-8. 


Step 3

The doctor calls you into their office. You tell the doctor your symptoms, much the same as you would in the US. 


Step 4

The doctor hands you a lab testing slip with the tests that need to be performed.


Step 5

You return to the cashier and pay for the lab tests. These range in price but are usually around $10-20 total. 


Step 6 

Go to the lab and get the tests performed. The most common tests performed are usually for malaria, typhoid, and gastrointestinal diseases.


Step 7

Wait for the results. Once the results arrive, the doctor calls you back into their office to discuss the results.


Step 8

The doctor writes you a script for the correct antiparasitic/antibiotic. There’s a pharmacy in the clinic, so you pick up your medication immediately. Most medication costs less than $5. 


Step 9:

Get better.


And that’s it! I’ve generally found clinics in Tanzania to be (a) faster and (b) much cheaper than clinics in the US. Although they can’t handle nuanced cases as well as US doctors (I wouldn’t go there for a long-term issue that I’ve been having), they are perfect for the acute illnesses that myself and other participants might pick up on our travels. 

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