Life and death in Zanzibar

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Serving as an intensive care paramedic at the Queenstown branch of St John for two decades, Dianne Payne set off to Zanzibar for a month volunteering at a 700-bed public hospital. She talks to Miranda Cook about her experience

It was late at night when Dianne Payne arrived in Zanzibar, an island in a cluster of many in the Indian Ocean, about 35 kilometres off the East African coastline.

She was picked up at the airport by a driver and rapidly zipped along streets lined with shanty-town shacks and littered with potholes.

The intensive care paramedic, who’s dedicated her life to caring for others, expected to arrive at a house with 19 other volunteers.

Instead, the large house, protected by a gate and sometimes a guard, was empty.

After a night on edge and getting eaten by mosquitoes, clouds of doubt settled in – “I thought to myself, can I do this?”

But those clouds lifted the next morning when she was greeted by the sunny smiles of the people of Zanzibar, most of whom are dirt-poor, but rich in spirit.

“The people are just so sweet,” she tells Mountain Scene

A very well-paid, skilled worker would earn $US120 a month.

It was December last year when the mother-of-two started looking for a way to give back.

“I had travelled a lot in my life and am lucky enough to be given skills I thought could be useful.”

She chose Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, a 700-bed hospital armed with HIV and tuberculosis wards. For all of the island’s natural beauty and a centuries-old spice trade, poverty plagues the people – and the public hospital.

“Their basic care is third world; it’s developing but not very fast.”

She expected to put her skills to use “just by helping out” where possible.

But the hospital’s a training hub for student doctors and nurses, who complete their studies in English, and they quickly realised there was a lot they could learn from Payne.

Sadly, they weren’t short of patients to practise on.

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miranda.cook@scene.co.nz