It might sound odd, but in one way we can be thankful for a lack of aviation schools in Tanzania. Hendry R. Sawe, one of Tanzania’s founding emergency medicine leaders, grew up wanting to fly planes; his back-up plan was a career in medicine. Born in a small town on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, from a family of accountants, Hendry’s dreams of becoming a commercial pilot faded away rapidly because of a lack of licensing schools in Tanzania at that time. This meant that his dream of attending pilot school was thousands of kilometers away from home, the closest school being in South Africa.
Hendry’s passion for medicine started in 1995 when his uncle became very ill. He stayed by his uncle’s side for a month in a regional hospital in Arusha, learning how to change dressings and give injections while befriending doctors. After his uncle passed, the family continued to call on Hendry with any illnesses in the family and he quickly became known as the unofficial “family doctor”. All of this by the age of 16.
Hendry then earned a prestigious academic scholarship, given by the Tanzanian government, to go to medical school at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences. He graduated in 2008 with the desire to specialize in gynecology. With his newly earned degree, he returned to the same hospital in Arusha to complete his internship training and worked with the same doctor that treated his uncle all those years ago. He finished his internship in 2009, having completed over 250 caesarean sections.
Hendry was well on his way of becoming a specialist in gynaecology in his hometown when he was offered to interview for a position as an emergency medicine physician in Dar es Salam. He was intrigued by the challenges of emergency medicine and curious to see if it really was like what he saw on television. He took a gamble and abandoned his pursuits in gynaecology for this undeveloped and unknown specialty. After one year as a registrar, Hendry was hooked.
He took a gamble and abandoned his pursuits in gynaecology for this undeveloped and unknown specialty. After one year as a registrar, Hendry was hooked.
Now in 2014, Hendry is the current president of the Emergency Medicine Association of Tanzania – EMAT, which is the national society of emergency medicine in Tanzania for physicians, nurses and paramedics. With the creation of EMAT, Hendry and his colleagues continue to work closely with the Government and other stakeholders to make emergency medicine in Tanzania a healthcare priority. There is currently only one full capacity public emergency medicine department in all of Tanzania and no formal public emergency medical services.
Hendry’s work has included training health care providers in district and regional hospitals, providing them with basic and advanced emergency skills to care for the community. This he believes to be the catalyst for change and development of emergency care. He is also highly involved in research and collaboration with other local organizations, such as the African Federation for Emergency Medicine (AFEM) for which Hendry serves as vice president. Partnerships like this, as well as with international organizations like the International Federation for Emergency Medicine, are essential in creating a unified effort towards a common goal: building an emergency care system accessible to all Africans, regardless of ability to pay.
Hendry hopes that within the next decade, he can build an emergency care system to prevent mortality from poor access or poor training.
Getting Involved: The Emergency Medicine Association of Tanzania (EMAT) has set up a non-for profit fund to support residents pursuing emergency medicine training at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS). Donate now at www.ematz.org.
This profile originally appeared in Issue 14 of Emergency Physicians International.