Reflections on an elective in Kenya

Hijiri Suzuki


Hijiri Suzuki
Sixth Year Medicine (Undergraduate)
University of New South Wales

Hijiri is interested in Paediatrics. She is one of a group of UNSW students raising funds to assist children and their families at Kenyatta National Hospital in paying for medical treatment.


In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal. Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death.” – Peter Godwin. [1]

Figure 1. Baby hospitalised for suspected bacterial pneumonia.

Squeezing into our rusty mutatu (bus), we handed over the fare to the conductor, who returned to us less than expected change. In response to our indignant questioning, he defiantly stated, “You are mzungu (white person) and mzungu is money.” This was lesson one in a crash course we had inadvertently stumbled into: “Life in Kenya for the naïve tourist.” More unsettling than being scammed in day to day life, however, was the rampant corruption in the hospital and university setting.

We completed our placement at Kenyatta National Hospital, the largest referral centre in Kenya, with 1,800 beds, 50 wards and 24 operating theatres. I was based within the paediatric ward and paediatric emergency department…