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Introducing Act4Africa

Chris, studying at the University of Manchester, spent eight weeks on his medical elective with Act4Africa in Jinja, Uganda. He divided his time between Jinja Regional Referral Hospital and the Nalufenya Children’s Hospital, an annex of Jinja Hospital. He also participated in a number of community visits to outlying villages with Act4Africa and a variety of different health organisations. He told me “Before I came to Uganda, I tried to imagine what healthcare in Africa might be like. I was nowhere close. I’ve been forced to improve many of my most basic skills and wean myself off investigations and treatment protocols. As a student wanting to gain experience and test myself when given more responsibility, this elective has been fantastic. Ultimately I feel more confident and competent.”

Act4Africa is an award-winning registered charity with over 14 years’ experience delivering grass roots development programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. Act4Africa UK’s stated mission is to address inequality in Africa through gender justice, health education and sustainable earning potential. These aims are closely aligned with the current UN Sustainable Development Goals: 1. to end poverty; 3. to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being; and 5. to ensure inclusive and quality education for all.

The charity’s current focus is on improving the health and livelihoods of marginalised women and girls in Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi. We believe that the best people to address these inherent issues come from within the local communities themselves. Projects are delivered through local implementation partners who are nationally registered NGOs. Through the use of dramatisation or “theatre for development”, the teams provide performance arts activities to communicate gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention education programmes. The local staff understand community views and traditions and adapt training methods to suit local contexts. Act4Africa Uganda has been recognised with a USAid award for their project which improved access to sexual and reproductive health services and information for young people.

Through our strong local networks in Uganda we are able to offer students the opportunity to combine a hospital based elective with community health outreach work. The community health work may include assisting with training of village health workers, programmes improving nutrition of children, palliative care, providing village medical clinics, or assisting with HIV counselling and testing clinics.

An elective with Act4Africa is guaranteed to be an eye-opening experience which can change your perceptions, challenge you and also be one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Lauren, studying Nursing at Glasgow University said, “I came away from the four weeks in Amana Hospital, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, with not only a new appreciation for how lucky we are in the west, but a changed view on healthcare as a whole. Patients in Amana hospital were often teetering on the brink of life and death. They were so much sicker than anyone I’d ever seen before, with no money to pay for treatment. Staff struggled to care for their patients with the limited resources they had available. But, with lack of resources comes a newfound resourcefulness – you stop asking yourself ‘what do I need to carry out this task?’ and start asking, ‘what can I do with what I’ve got?’ To make a diagnosis in an African hospital you will rely on your physical examinations and history taking. You will learn a lot about how to think clinically without the use of investigations that would be available in the UK. Being taken out of your ‘comfort zone’ can help develop character as well as an ability to deal with the myriad conditions that your career could throw at you.

An elective with Act4Africa can also provide you with a window into a side of medicine about which you would otherwise know little. You will learn a great deal about diseases that you just don’t see in the UK outside of very specialist areas, therefore providing you with a greater range of tools in your professional life.

On a personal level, living and working with the community provides a real insight into the culture and you may even pick up the local language. “I’ve really come to like Jinja and the people here, who are overwhelmingly friendly. The children in particular are among the friendliest I’ve ever met, oftentimes they’ll run over to you as you’re walking around just to give you a hug, or walk down the street with you practising their English.” explains Chris.

Act4Africa has set itself a goal of reaching 5 million beneficiaries with our health programmes and to date we have achieved 1.75m. Choosing an elective with Act4Africa would mean that you can help us reach our target and make a difference to many disadvantaged people.

This article was written by Sarah Istephan who works for Act4Africa. You can find out more about electives with Act4Africa here or you can email Sarah here.