Read about the incredible experiences of our volunteers 

Hernia International visits Zanzibar, Tanzania

Many surgeon volunteers enjoy working in low-income resource poor communities; their experience certainly benefits the lives of people who would not otherwise be able to have surgery. However their generosity may be a 'burden' to their families and partners. Well Zanzibar may be a truly combined experience for both parties!

Zanzibar (also known as The Spice Island) is one of those African words that invokes images of snow-white coral sands along the coast of Africa. It has a history and cultural diversity to be envied. The Portuguese were early settlers, followed by the Omani Arabs and it later became a British Protectorate, but was granted independence in 1963. Health Improvement Project Zanzibar or HIPZ was founded by Dr Ru MacDonagh, a consultant surgeon in Taunton, UK with Zanzibar-based Dr Mohamed Jiddawi and registered as a charity in 2006. HIPZ now runs two public hospitals (Kivunge in the north and Makunduchi in the south) as an NGO. The hospitals are staffed by experienced junior volunteer doctors from the UK (two in Kivunge and one in Makunduchi).


Two 'Hernia International' surgeons recently spent some time working in these hospitals (John Chester from Taunton December 2013 and Brian Stephenson from Newport, Wales in February 2014 using EO sterilised mosquito mesh to repair inguinal hernias. As in other parts of Africa the majority of the groin hernias are inguino-scrotal and we were both grateful for the expertly administered spinal anaesthesia at both sites. In Kivunge there was no diathermy but the recently refurbished theatre was one of the best BS has worked in Sub-Saharan Africa and the AC was excellent. In Makunduchi there was diathermy but poorer ventilation. John C did a total 18 hernias and Brian S 13 with a very competent scrub nurse. In addition we were able to train a surgical nurse in the use of mesh but suggested that large hernias should not be tackled too soon!


Both JC and BS (with wife) stayed in different places on the island and we have no reservations with regard to any accommodation that we stayed at. The food is excellent in the hotels, which are very reasonably priced when compared with European rates. It is a safe place and there are no health issues. The beaches on the east coast of the main island (~ 50 miles long and 20 miles wide) are palm-lined and stretch for miles. Below the waves, varieties of fish swim amongst coral gardens. From the turtles that nest there, to the whale sharks and dolphins (we were lucky), there is often the 'unexpected' awaiting even novel snorkellers. Inland 'spice farms' are plentiful and there are beautiful native forests and this is the only place in the world where you can see the rare red colobus monkey.

The Zanzibarian people and patients are very friendly, welcoming and grateful. Ru MacDonagh and HIPZ's administration is faultless: we very much recommend this centre and it's staff to future volunteer surgeons who also enjoy some rest and relaxation with their partners!

Brian Stephenson & John Chester