Reporter: Ira Kleine (Final year medical student, UCL, email@example.com)
Contact at destination: Professor Serigne Gueye
Year of visit: 2015
Institution: Hôpital Général de Grand Yoff
Department: Urology/Obstetrics & Gynaecology
Work/study undertaken: I spent a total of six weeks at l’Hôpital Général de Grand Yoff (HOGGY), a public hospital. During the first half of my placement, I accompanied Professor Gueye – an expert on obstetric fistulas – and his urology colleagues. This coincided with ‘fistula week’, where women come for treatment of their obstetric fistulas under an Amref Health Africa/UNFPA-funded project. After witnessing the catastrophic complications of mismanaged labour, I spent the second half of my elective in O&G.
Whilst on urology, I attended the 8am ward rounds, examined interesting patients, read through patient notes (to absorb as much medical French vocabulary as possible!) and went to theatre – mostly observing, but I scrubbed in a few times too. During my three weeks in O&G, I attended the 8am ward rounds, assisted with births, examined women in labour and post-natally and assisted and observed in theatre.
Description of destination: HOGGY is a public hospital in the capital of Senegal – Dakar. Senegal is the most developed country in West Africa and its capital is full of contrasts of poverty vs. wealth. You can find all the comforts of French life and western food if you so wish, as well as sandy, rubbish-strewn and goat-plenty pavements in poorer areas. Islam is the predominant religion, but a small proportion of Senegalese are Christian; the two religions exist peacefully side-by-side, religious festivals of the two are celebrated as national holidays, and Churches and Mosques are both plenty.
Were the local people friendly? Yes! Senegalese people are extremely kind, helpful and generous. Being white – and a woman – attracted a lot of attention, but mostly it was simply that people are interested to talk to you. Saying that I was married was crucial, however – else there are a lot of uncomfortable questions.
Was it safe and if not, why not?
Generally, I felt safe. On one occasion two strangers (who I must have had polite conversation with whilst in the area) managed to find me at the hospital – from then on, I said I worked at a different hospital in the city and lied about where I lived when having polite conversation with people around town.
However, I did not feel safe whilst traveling on the roads. Most passenger seats in taxis have seat-belts (but none of the rear seats do), so I’d recommend always getting in the front to use the seatbelt.
What did you do in your spare time?
During the day, there are endless markets to explore in Dakar and beaches to relax at. The ‘Village des Arts’ in Dakar was one of my favourite spots – a tourist-free, peaceful yard near the football stadium with dozens of artists in their workshops, creating and selling their work. The nightlife in Dakar is also fantastic – starting very late and going on until early morning – with plenty of restaurants, bars, clubs and live music venues.
I used the weekends to explore Senegal a bit more: Lac Rose and Île de Gorée are great day-trips from Dakar, and the Jazz Festival in Saint-Louis (a five hour taxi ride north of Dakar) – an annual occurrence, usually in May – was absolutely fantastic!
Is there anything you would particularly recommend others to do?
Go to the Jazz Festival in Saint-Louis if you’re in Senegal at the time – it’s incredible!
Time of year and climate?
I was in Senegal from April-June, during the hot season (it didn’t rain a single time): mornings and evenings were bearable, nights were around 24˚C, and noon-5pm was always above 30˚C.
I lived in an on-site hospital apartment.
Was it provided?
How did you get there?
Flight London-Dakar (via Madrid).
Was the visit medically useful?
Absolutely; the hospital experience was incredibly eye-opening. No amount of reading or pre-elective report research on health systems or epidemiology compares to seeing first-hand the difficulties that arise from sparse resources and out-of-pocket health expenditure. However, it was also frustrating, because I wasn’t able to put my ‘Western’ medical knowledge and skills into practice, because the facilities simply aren’t available.
Did you enjoy your visit?
As I was alone (as a woman) the experience was interesting, eye-opening, challenging and frustrating… And although there were fun times (such as the Jazz Festival) and it was without a doubt a rewarding experience that I would recommend to anyone interested in working in the developing world, it was also very hard and exhausting.
Has it improved your French?
Definitely! My confidence and fluency in simple day-to-day and medical French are unrecognisable. English is not spoken widely, so it was a ‘sink or try swimming’ experience – the perfect environment for a steep learning curve and fast improvement.
If you went back, would you do anything differently?
I would say that I was married from the start!
Flight £350; insurance £120; immunisations and malaria prophylaxis £160; PEP £220; maintenance expenditure £75/week = total about £1250.
Travelling after the placement (staying in cheap hostels and using Sept-place taxis as transport) = about £35/day.
Any other useful information:
Take plenty of high-factor sun-cream: I didn’t see any on offer to buy whilst there!
Reporter: Mark Strebel
Contact at destination: Dr. Ibrahima Diagne
Year of visit: 2013
Region: Saint Louis
Institution: Hôpital Regional de Saint Louis
Department: Emergency Departemnt
Work / Study undertaken: Two month clinical attachment in the Emergency Departmenbt
Description of destination: Saint Louis is the old French colonial capital of Sénégal. It is a nice city, smaller and less hectic than Dakar. It is fairly popular with tourists but I was there during the low season so it felt pretty authentic. The highlights include easy access to great beaches (though plenty of rubbish washes up), and decent nightlife. Other than that there’s not too much to do in Saint Louis
Were the local people friendly? The locals were incredibly friendly. Some only because they want to get you into their shop, but you soon learn to spot them. Generally, I found the Senegalese to be very welcoming, helpful and even strangers are pretty chatty.
Did you feel safe and if not why not? Senegal is a very safe country compared to other African destinations, for example South Africa. I wandered around Saint Louis and Dakar at night with no problems and did not feel threatened. Obviously, take the usual precautions and if you’re sensible the only real risk is pickpockets mostly in Dakar.
What did you do in your spare time? In Saint Louis the main activities are going to the beach, and chilling out. There are plenty of things to see around Saint Louis as well for day trips or weekends.
Is there anything that you would particularly recommend others to do? The best thing I did in Senegal was hiring a 4×4 pickup with some other students. It was fairly expensive, but it was fun having our own car to go exploring. Around Saint Louis the Lompoul desert is really cool to visit. We slept in the back for two nights then had a mechanical disaster, but that was all part of the fun. Also, there is some decent surfing to be done in Dakar.
What was the climate like? Hot, sunny most day and around 30 degrees. I was there for June and July, which is the beginning of the rainy season, but didn’t see a drop of rain till the second half of July.
What was your accommodation like? I stayed in a room in the hospital
Was it provided? It was provided but I was not aware of that until I arrived. I had planned to stay at a hostel, but am glad I didn’t even if my social life perhaps suffered as a result
How much did it cost? Free! I believe I may have been lucky though. Don’t expect free accommodation.
Did you enjoy your visit? Yes, it was excellent.
Did you find it useful medically? Yes, it was very useful medically. I got a lot of experience examining patients and doing some minor procedures (eg. Suturing)
Has it improved your French? Yes. I gained a lot of confidence speaking French for two months solidly. The doctors all speak French, but many of the patients only spoke Wolof.
How has it increased your knowledge of French culture? Being in Senegal is a great window onto French culture and it is fascinating to see how it is still a large influence on Senegalese culture. I met many Senegalese and even some French medical students from whom I learned a lot about French culture.
If you went back would you do anything differently? It would be fun to see some of the countries around Senegal as well. I met a couple who had hitch hiked from Europe to Senegal. If I had to do it again, hitch hiking through Mauritania and Morocco back to Europe would be a cool way to get home.
How did you get there? Direct flight from Brussels with Brussels Air
What was the approximate total cost? Flights: £400 return. Daily living is cheap, accommodation being the main cost. Overall I spent less than £1000 in two months.
Is there any other information that you think may be useful? I bought the guide Routard for Senegal, which was very useful. Lonely planet would be a good choice as well.
Reporter: James Bashford
Contact at destination: Emily Henderson (firstname.lastname@example.org), www.projects-abroad.net
Year of visit: 2009
Region: St. Louis
Institution: La Croix Rouge (St. Louis), Espoirs de demain (Talibé centre)
Work / Study undertaken
In the mornings I spent time at the local Red Cross centre, which housed two doctors and four nurses. It was run as a general clinic for the poorer members of the population. I sat in with one of the doctors, often taking histories and examining the patients myself, attempting to accustom myself with the tropical array of diseases that were seen.
In the afternoons, I worked with a newly-opened talibé centre (Espoirs de demain) which offered medical assistance to the local talibés (young children living in dismal conditions, forced to beg all day for their masters). This involved treating skin abscesses, scabies and other infections, but also providing education to the children, mainly regarding hygiene maintenance.
Description of the service and department
I worked with two charities – one which was well established and has many international connections and therefore was well-funded. The other was new and had taken several years to get off the ground. It was phenomenal to see the amount of effort and own expense that the organisers of this charity put into this project.
Description of the destination
St. Louis is the old capital of Senegal, situated in the north of the country, very near the Mauritanian border. It’s a city full of charm and character, segregated into the poorer peninsula, the island and the richer mainland – the sea and beaches are never far away.
Were the local people friendly?
The local population was on the whole very friendly. I lived with a Senegalese family who treated me very well, and everyone I worked with was keen to get me involved as much as possible. You do have to expect being approached and pestered by shop and market-stall owners, but as long as you’re firm with them, they’ll leave you alone quite quickly.
Did you feel safe and if not why not?
Yes. Despite being approached by strangers on a daily basis, I never felt threatened by anyone. As long as you are sensible by not roaming the streets late at night, St. Louis is a safe place.
What did you do in your spare time ?
There were up to 50 volunteers in the city during my time in St. Louis. This made it very easy to not get bored. There were several beaches nearby as well as hotels with swimming pools and good food. We spent one weekend in a dessert nearby and several nights in one of the many local nightclubs.
Is there anything that you would particularly recommend others to do?
Spend some time in Dakar – easy to do as most flights from Europe go to Dakar.
What time of the year were you there? What was the climate like?
June – August. Extremely hot – which became unbearable at times, especially during powercuts when none of the fans would work. But this is Africa, so what more do you expect? Spring and autumn offer more bearable climates.
What was your accommodation like?
I lived with a local family. My accommodation was basic, sharing a room with another volunteer. There was a fan, a nearby toilet with shower-room and the family goats just outside my window!
Was it provided? Yes, with Projects Abroad.
How much did it cost? Included within the package price (see below).
Did you enjoy your visit? Yes, it was brilliant and I’d thoroughly recommend it.
Did you find it useful medically? If so, in what way?
It was definitely useful to see medicine from a different angle. I could appreciate how a lack of resources severely dampens your ability to care for patients in the correct way. We take it for a granted in the NHS that we can just order countless investigations if the indications are there. This meant I picked up many clinical skills regarding the diagnosis and simple treatment of common tropical illnesses, such as malaria – something we rarely see in the UK.
Has it improved your French?
Definitely. The main thing is to know a bit of French beforehand and be confident in using it whenever you can. Senegalese French takes a bit of getting used to – on the one hand the Senegalese speak more slowly than the French, but on the other they have a very different accent.
Has it increased your knowledge of French culture?
Yes. Or at least, I’ve learnt more about Senegalese French culture. They serve French bread with every evening meal and you soon get used to the daily dish of fish, rice and vegetables – Thieboudienne. It’s also amazing being a part of the strictly Muslim culture, hearing calls to prayer five times a day and learning more about this way of life.
How did you get there?
Flight from London Heathrow – Lisbon – Dakar. Then, a sept place (seven-seater taxi) to St. Louis (takes about 4-5 hours).
What was the approximate total cost? All in, excluding spending money, about £1800.
Is there any other information that you think may be useful?
There were a huge variety of students and volunteers on the course – some doing journalism, teaching or childcare. I found it interesting to have this variety and I’ve made many friends who I still keep in touch with now.