Earlier this week I made my first visit to the regional hospital. Note that, not the local hospital or a small clinic. The regional hospital here in Mwanza.
Don't worry, there was nothing horribly wrong with me. I mentioned last week that I had a rash on my wrist and fingers? Well, that rash is still here and has spread and is itchy, filled with pus and is showing no signs of going away. We tried to see a private doctor but he referred us to the dermatologist at the regional hospital.
Now, I'd heard bad things about this hospital, so at least I was able to prepare myself a little. And it's not like I am in a war-zone or anything. There were no bloody, screaming people laying around. But, it truly was just a sad state of affairs. There were people everywhere. Standing in lines that meandered here and there. Sitting around in endless waiting areas. Hunched over to talk through glass windows to receptionists/nurses in dimly lit offices. It reminded me of the DVM. You go to one place, wait in line. Well, that's not even true. First you have to figure out which is the line and which is just a collection of people sitting and waiting. It's very hard to tell the difference. Then, you talk to someone. They tell you to wait. You wait. They tell you to go to another window. You go there. They tell you it's the wrong place and go back. We did this for about 2+ hours. And we were advocating for ourselves! Meaning, if we felt we were waiting a long time or had a suspicion we were in the wrong place, we'd ask a nurse. Imagine what it would've been like if we just sat and waited quietly.
We paid the fee (about $10 US which is minimal to me but astronomical to many Tanzanians) before seeing the doctor. You have to pay this to get your medical chart set up. Then, we waited some more. When things seemed fishy and we didn't feel like we were getting anywhere we asked another nurse. She tells us that the dermatologist doesn't work on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we should come back tomorrow!
Luckily, I have information and resources at my disposal. Instead of coming back the next day we opted to go to a medical clinic where we knew a general practitioner who was good. Within 15 minutes, we'd been seen and I was given an ointment to put on my rash for a few days. What saddens me, though, is to think of what the locals go through. They have to be pretty desperate to travel all the way here to this hospital. Many of them have spent money they don't have to get here. One woman waiting in line told the receptionist that her lungs continue to fill with fluid and that her village clinic referred her here. The people are put through the ringer with lines and endless waiting only to find out that the doctor is out for the day. Or, the lab is 2/3rds not operational. Or the X-ray machine isn't working that day. These are all stories that I've heard here.
To be fair, I've also heard stories of good doctors who are attentive and care about their patience at this hospital. But think about how hard it would be just to see the doctor, even then. I know that Kenya has good medical care. Why can't Tanzania do better for their people?