Habari! My first mission in Tanzania

Austrian laboratory technician Karin Walter is currently in Tanzania on her first assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF first worked in Tanzania in 1993. We returned in 2015 to provide assistance for refugees living in overcrowded camps, with poor sanitation and little access to healthcare.

Washing drying in the MSF compound

This is Karin’s first post from her assignment in Nyaragusu camp, where she is working to set up a blood bank to serve emergency patients…

To start, I want to say that the project I have been assigned to seems perfect for my first posting, and Tanzania is beautiful!

The journey was a bit long, but it gave me time to work my way through the many briefing documents, giving me the essential information about the project. One of them was on the topic of blood donations, which later turned out to be very helpful.

I flew from Vienna to Geneva and spent a few days in Dar es Salaam. There I met my first colleague, Altair, a doctor from Mexico. Then it was finally time and we started the journey into the project, together with David, the country director, and my Austrian colleague, Christian, who is responsible for HR coordination.

Houses in Tanzania
More houses in Tanzania

On the road… © Karin Walter/MSF

MSF works in two refugee camps in this area: Nyaragusu and Nduta. I am based in the first, three hours’ drive from the airport in Kigoma. Our accommodation is 15 minutes from the camp and very cosy.

Laundry drying under palm trees... © Karin Walter/MSF

There are seven international members of staff in Nyaragusu, including me. The project is quite small because the Tanzanian Red Cross coordinates most of the medical care, including the hospital and some health posts.

MSF focuses on caring for people with malaria,and on running an emergency room which includes the laboratory where  working. Since the "small rainy season" has begun, the malaria clinics are seeing high numbers of patients and we are already thinking about opening more.

One of my tasks is opening up a blood bank. That will mean in future we‘ll be able to care for patients with severe malaria on site, without having to transfer them to the Tanzanian Red Cross hospital.

The preparations were already well on their way but I still had enough time to plan the whole thing well and train my lab staff. Then the health education team can start informing people about it. I really enjoy my role, and get a lot of support from all sides.

We also have the best food for far and wide! I had actually steeled myself for daily rice and beans, but instead it’s been a varied menu with fresh avocados, pineapples, mangoes, papayas .... We are trying to do some regular yoga sessions so that we don’t go home too fat ;-)

Four of us spent the Christmas holidays together in Tanzania at 30° C. Baking cookies, kitschy Christmas decoration and some really nice neighbours have helped me feel the Christmas spirit despite the summer temperatures ... © Karin Walter/MSF

I hope it is not too cold at home and there is at least a bit of snow for the holidays!

Greetings from the pleasantly warm and slightly rainy Tanzania,