Photos courtesy of Akkavich Harnnavachok
Dr. Joe travels to Africa.
Working in a new environment is an eye-opening experience. In 2015, when the earthquake hit Nepal, Thai doctor Akkavich Harnnavachok (Joe) decided to help. He joined the Medical Council of Thailand and travelled there to provide aid to the Nepalese people. Inspired by this experience, he decided that he should use his knowledge and skills to help patients around the world.
Dr. Joe is currently training in Preventive Medicine and Clinical Tropical Medicine. In particular, he wants to know more about the infectious diseases that are so common in tropical areas. As part of his research, he spent five weeks in Africa, working for 22 days at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Tanzania. His experiences led him to write the book, Tanzania, Here I Am.
The busy doctor took some time off to chat to S Weekly about his African adventure.
Why did you decide to go to Tanzania?
Joe: I didn’t choose Tanzania specifically. I just wanted to go somewhere I could share my expertise. And in Africa, I could learn more about infectious diseases. Many dangerous viruses, such as Ebola and Zika, originally came from there. I sent emails to more than 10 hospitals in East Africa. KCMC were the first to reply.
Why did you focus on East Africa?
Joe: English is widely spoken in East Africa. It was my first trip to Africa and I was going by myself. I wanted to be in a place where I could communicate with people.
What was it like to work at KCMC?
Joe: It took me a couple of weeks to get used to it. The doctors could all speak English well, but most patients couldn’t. They spoke the local language, Swahili. We worked as a team, discussing how to treat patients. Most doctors had just graduated. I had more experience, so I was able to help them out a lot.
How have you benefited from working there?
Joe: It’s broadened my perspectives. In the future, I’ll probably go to work in Africa more often.
You did a lot of trekking while you were there. Can you tell us about that?
Joe: I started by trekking up a small mountain. When I arrived at the peak, I felt that I could accomplish anything. I saw the world from a different perspective. It made me appreciate nature.
You trekked up Mount Kilimanjaro. How did you prepare?
Joe: I trained for six months, running at least five kilometres per day. I also ran up steep paths and stairs.
Did you have any problems with the high altitude?
Joe: Yes. I’d planned to take a video at the top. When I got there, I was so excited, I ran around taking photos. But then I suddenly felt exhausted. I had to sit on the ground and take deep breaths.
Did you experience any culture shock there?
Joe: Not really. I can adapt to new environments well. But I was surprised to learn how local people measure time. They count 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night, with the first hour of the day being 7 am. I was very confused at first. At the local restaurant, they told me they served rice from 6 am, but they really meant noon. So I didn’t have rice for a couple of days.
What impressed you most about Tanzania?
Joe: The people were very nice, especially in the town of Moshi where I was staying. They would always help you out. One taxi driver was very friendly and generous. He liked to invite doctors to have dinner with him even though he didn’t have a lot of money. He wanted to treat visitors well.