A day in the life of an international audiologist volunteering in Malawi

A day in the life of an international audiologist volunteering in Malawi

Dr Courtney Caron, an Audiologist from the United States takes us through a day in her life as a Sound Seekers volunteer in Malawi.

There is no such thing as a typical day.  Every day is different.  The needs are different.  The patients are different.  What is needed from me is different.  I have to prioritise what is needed most on any particular day.  One thing is for sure though, a day in the life of an audiologist in Malawi is never boring.

Having dodged the chaos of Blantyre’s streets where carts loaded with the fruit of the season, bicycles loaded with charcoal or goats and ladies carrying 20 litres of water on their heads, weave in and out of the traffic.  I spend the first half an hour answering emails from Sound Seekers, audiology equipment manufacturers, potential volunteers, other NGOs and the Ministry of Health.

Patients start arriving around 8am for various appointments: hearing tests, vestibular/balance assessments, ear mould impressions, hearing aid fittings, etc.  There are usually one or two audiology officers taking patient histories and doing various tests but as the only audiologist in Blantyre, I try and review all patients’ tests and recommendations or assist with complex cases.  Patients vary as much as my daily activities.  I may see a 90 year old man with hearing loss due to old age, a three year child who has suffered from cerebral malaria, a 25 year old man with Down’s syndrome or a 40 year old woman who has received an antibiotic that is known to cause hearing loss.  Each patient is different and requires a different way to diagnosis and treat them.  It takes experience and knowledge as well as a little creativity to ensure all patients receive appropriate care.

There is one audiology officer in training and he requires some additional time from me to help with reviewing assignments, understanding intricate ideas or having additional hands-on training in order to help him succeed in his course.  I also have management activities to do in order to keep the Sound Seekers’ project and the audiology department running smoothly.  We are in the process of building a comprehensive audiology clinic so I have to do tasks such as identifying where the electrical outlets should be and sort through quotations to furnish the building.  My day ends around 5pm and I return home through the chaotic streets of Blantyre.

Tales from Tanzania

Tales from Tanzania

Sara Barnes who’s volunteering for Sound Seekers in Tanzania shares her travel stories

As some of you know, I am working with the NGO, Sound Seekers, in Tanzania. Sound Seekers are dedicated to helping people with hearing loss in the developing world in partnership with local organizations. I met Lucy (CEO) and Emily (Programme Manager) at the Coalition for Global Hearing Health conference in Oxford last July. I was impressed by their commitment to facilitate relationships with professionals in the community and work toward long-term and ethical goals.

Currently, I am working at two places, Buguruni School for the Deaf and Amana hospital. Buguruni, which is run by the Tanzanian Society for the Deaf, has about 300 “deaf” students (students with varying degrees of hearing loss), some of which live at the school. The students communicate primarily by sign language, but the goal is to use total communication (signing and speech). Unfortunately, my small knowledge of American Sign Language is not useful, as sign language is different in every country. My primary goals at the school are to educate the teachers and staff about hearing loss and hearing aid use and update the students’ hearing tests and hearing aid information. I am working with a fantastic Tanzanian audiologist, Mr. Shibanda, who was working as a teacher at the school, then fund raised to put himself through audiology school in England. He also works with people from the community to help with ear issues, like impacted ear wax, and hearing tests. As far as I know, he is one of the few audiologists in Tanzania.

Amana Hospital is a regional hospital that serves the Ilala area of Dar es Salaam. Currently, I am working on training physicians that are interested in basic ear care in the hopes of eventually starting an ear and hearing clinic. The hospital is sorely lacking resources. In the whole hospital, which has several departments, there is not a single otoscope, the light and magnifier used to look into patients’ ears. The doctors have to refer to the Ear, Nose, and Throat Department at the National hospital (30 minutes to 2 hours away, depending on traffic) for simple problems such as “swimmer’s ear.”

The people I have been working with at Amana and Buguruni have been enthusiastic and passionate about ears, like me! However, things in Tanzania seem to operate more slowly and can be frustrating. For example, the electricity in the audiology office at Buguruni stopped working on October 21 after some routine maintenance was completed by the Indian Navy. The last week has been spent having various maintenance men inspect the problem and at this point, we are waiting on the power company. It is nearly impossible to complete work at the school since the audiology office is the only place quiet enough to perform hearing tests. On the bright side, I have had time to compile some educational material for the teachers about the importance of the students wearing hearing aids, which is a rarity at the school and arguably, a bigger problem.

At Amana, my main difficulty is getting all the doctors together at the same time. Each doctor has their own schedule. Even if they agree to meet at a certain time, their schedules can change, which has left me waiting at training by myself more than once. We are working on a new schedule to keep this from happening, but again, everything moves a little slower in Africa. Although I focused on the difficulties I am having, I want to stress that this is how things usually go in Tanzania. I did not expect to come into smooth sailing, and honestly, the setbacks, though infuriating, are part of the experience and a reflection of what the dedicated professionals who are from here also encounter. With my time, I am making small steps forward most days and expanding my knowledge as an audiologist, a trainer, and traveler.

Thank you to Sara for allowing us to use this post from her travel blog http://www.shortandtalltales.com/