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Samuel Kodwo Amanfu - Medicine in Ethiopia

Medical volunteers wear white lab coats and stethoscopes

My decision to volunteer and intern in Africa began with a series of events and conversations with some of my colleagues. I stumbled across the Projects Abroad website as I was searching for volunteer opportunities abroad. As an aspiring physician, I wanted to embark on a project that would allow me to combine my passion for medicine and healthcare with my love for Africa, my continent of origin. I began to do some research and came across a program called “Projects Abroad” that allowed me to do just that. I am Samuel Amanfu, a senior of The Pennsylvania State University, a General Science major and proud alumnus of the Projects Abroad Program.

First impressions

The general vibe of Ethiopians and Addis Ababa to be very precise is one of hospitality and peacefulness. Walking on the streets of Addis Ababa, you come across many vendors, and interesting monuments like the obelisk. Personally, I noticed that whenever people noticed that I was a foreigner, they would ask to know whether I needed help with something, this impressed me so much. The national language of the people is Amharic, and is widely spoken by the people. Apart from this language, there are about 80 different languages, each uniquely distinct to the 80 different tribes in the country. The local and staple food is “Injera”, a spongy-like meal made of teff flour, which can be eaten with just about anything that suites your choice.

My Medicine placement

Medical volunteers take a break during their day

My volunteer and service internship took place in the beautiful city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the origin of the first human settlers and the seat of the African Union. I was placed in a missionary home privately run as a non-profit organization by the Catholic Church to cater for and help the sick and destitute people who lived on the streets of Addis Ababa. The organization provides free care for the poorest of the poor – people who would not be able to afford reliable health care otherwise.

It is run as a clinic or health center with three doctors (and four more doctors who are volunteers) and about 20 nurses. My main role was to work with the doctors in providing care and prescriptions for patients. Our typical day begun by screening patients, assessing their health conditions to know whether they can be admitted in our facility, or whether they needed to be referred. Once the patients are screened, we attend to emergency cases first and then to other cases. I worked with the doctor in charge to listen to the symptoms described by the patients and then wrote the necessary prescriptions. I also filled out their health records.

Overall experience

Volunteers in the Ethiopian Medicine Placement

This opportunity allowed me to shadow a doctor and learn from him. It helped me to understand what doctors look for in patients to provide a diagnosis and possible prescriptions. I learnt and understood how to write prescriptions for patients, that is, the terms and medical language used and how to write records for patients. Further, I got an in-depth understanding on how to use a patient’s previous records to make a conclusion about their health condition. The most rewarding experience was seeing how patients made progress in their health as we monitored them. This experience has also exposed me to diseases that are very alien to the West. Some of these were cholera, borella (relapsing fever), malaria and tuberculosis – all of which I had never seen in America, even though I have volunteered in hospitals there. I also got familiar with hospital paperwork (referral forms, recommendation forms etc.) and ran errands for the doctors and nurses in the clinic.

I worked with a General Practitioner who has worked at the institution for eight years. He is a selfless and down-to-earth man whose passion for helping the sick became apparent from my first meeting with him. He was a warm and receptive man who treated his patients and staff with respect. His dedication to health and human service is more evident in the fact that he had previously left his wife, family and his job to serve as a medic during the Sudan war in highly dangerous conditions. He endured living in the midst of flying bombs grenades and bullets for a period of two years and then returned to serve at the clinic. This doctor has a unique method of attending to patients in that he seeks not only to understand the patients’ physical conditions, but goes further to probe into their emotional, mental and more importantly environmental conditions. In the spirit of understanding and calmness, he explains to patients their diagnosis and advises them on what they can do to prevent the same condition from recurring. His method of holistic medicine stood out to me so much and I intend to incorporate that into my future practice.

In my years of immersing myself in healthcare, there has been no single experience that has been as rewarding and gratifying as my trip to Ethiopia. I have learned so much from working with the doctors and nurses. I have also learnt so much from the culture and I am very thankful for this experience.

Samuel Kodwo Amanfu

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