(By Dr Julia McLean)
I have just returned after working for 2 weeks on Jubilee Hope on Lake Victoria in Tanzania which was an amazing and very rewarding experience.
There were 3 doctors (including a very experienced Vine Trust volunteer) and a pharmacist from Scotland and as soon as we arrived we were made to feel very welcome on the boat. Before commencing work, we were given a tour of the boat and an introduction to tropical medicine by Dr Simeon, the national doctor, which proved to be indispensable.
On the boat, we consulted upstairs under a canopy. We saw many diseases we rarely encounter in Britain such as malaria, worm infections, typhoid, gastroenteritis and HIV. We could test for malaria, HIV, CD4 count and stool microscopy on the boat to help with the diagnosis but the Tanzanian staff were very approachable if we had any questions. We also dealt with common UK conditions like asthma, hayfever and STIs.
One of the highlights of our trip was the opportunity to be the first team to visit a new island called Makibwa. We don’t think they have ever had a doctor there and they were hugely appreciative of our help. One gentleman clasped my hands and kissed them and another lady on the island left her work to hug all of us and tell us she loved us! We had the opportunity to visit the church on this island and we were humbled by the perseverance of the lady pastor in such difficult surroundings. The roof had blown off her home and she now lives in a corrugated iron house just like most of the islanders.
The Vine Trust also works with HIV positive women, helping them set up micro-industries to feed themselves and their children. On the last island, we met some of these women in our surgeries. One of the most encouraging things for me was meeting one women who asked for her toddler to be tested for HIV and bursting into tears when she heard it was negative. On enquiry she explained she had taken her anti-retrovirals whilst pregnant. We were also able to use the new CD4 results to highlight to patients the importance of taking their medication.
Another encouraging story was a baby who arrived on the boat severely unwell and dehydrated from gastroenteritis. He received IV fluids and made a remarkable recovery. There were sad stories too, especially seeing several patients with advanced HIV.
If you are thinking of joining Jubilee Hope, can I please encourage you to do so. It is a very rewarding and special experience. Can I also encourage all the British and Tanzanian national staff of the Vine Trust- you are doing an amazing and invaluable work and during my trip I repeatedly saw evidence of the life changing benefit it is bringing to the local communities on Lake Victoria.