INTERVIEW ||| Desale, Passing on the Torch… Eritrea’s health care

INTERVIEW ||| Desale, Passing on the Torch… Eritrea’s health care

Desale Tewolde grew up in Zoba Debub in a village named Mai Mine and after doing his 12th grade matriculation in 2000, he enrolled at the University of Asmara in the Department of Public Health and Medicine. Desale is doing his PhD studies in European universities on Emergency, Critical Care and Anaesthesia.

While on visit in Eritrea during his study break, we had an interesting discussion on different issues including education, politics and the importance of sharing knowledge with our youngsters. Here is a glimpse of our conversation.

-Hi Desale, Welcome back to Asmara! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thank you! I was born at the time of the Derg regime. I barely know my father, he passed away when I was little and my late mother took care of me and my seven siblings. I was lucky that my mother pushed me to study and for sure, my family’s support is what drives me to succeed in my endeavours.

-Coming from a small village…

Actually I realised how I missed school when I was kid… Because of the war, I couldn’t go to school for five years. But then, at independence, I was able to return to school and did my high school in Adi Quala and passed before passing the 12th grade matriculation exam.

There was a Bachelor of sciences in Public Health and Clinical Sciences at the University of Asmara in which I studied until 2005. Following this, I did my internship at the Mendefera Referral Hospital where I worked as a Medical Doctor due to shortage of human resources.

Afterwards, there were possibilities of postgraduate studies focusing on Anaesthesia and, thus, I continued my studies. The good thing is that while studying I already accumulated years of professional experiences.

-Why choosing this field of study?

I remember during my internship one little boy swallowed something and the surgeon could not do anything. But then when the anaesthetist came, he managed to actually save the child. It’s one of the anecdotes that pushed me into this field, I realized the essential part anaesthesia plays within the field of health sciences.

-Your PhD…

I have always been interested in pain management and how neglected it is especially in underdeveloped countries; of course it is better in developed countries but still patients remain unsatisfied. So, I am currently taking a preparatory course for my PhD programme with the aim of doing a profound research in this aspect within the health care system in Eritrea.

And I was lucky to get a scholarship from the European Commission and the great sponsor of Martin Zimmerman from the Eritrean Relief Association branch of Germany. I study is done in Portugal, Spain and then Finland for each semester; I am able to take as much knowledge as possible from exposures to different places before embarking on a research part in Finland combined with field research in Eritrea.

-What is it like to study abroad?

In terms of studies, it’s great as it allowed one to have a great exposure and at present the course I am taking focuses on emergency and critical care which is precisely what I am passionate about. Actually, the first time I went to Europe for a training in intensive care unit and anaesthesia, specifically in Germany in 2015, between July and August, that was when I realised the gap we still have in Eritrea and even more about the critical care and the importance of easing the pain of patients.

-Passing on the Torch…

Between my master’s studies and now, I worked as a Graduate Assistant within the newly built Department of Anaesthesia at the University of Asmara. For a couple of years, with colleagues, we worked on the curriculum, teaching and mentoring new students. And now that I am studying abroad, I want to use my free time to continue this part of me, which is teaching.

-What impact do you think it has on students?

Well, it should be the students answering, but I think the differences between a local teacher and a foreigner who comes perhaps for three months. It will take the foreigner at least a month to adapt and perhaps even what the person will teach won’t go in line with the reality on the ground. What I mean is that sometimes they teach you to use some kind of medicine or materials which are not available on the ground in Eritrea.

On the contrary, teachers who went through the same program and know the Eritrean reality and culture will be more efficient. Further, I know their background, what they have previously learned. On top of that, sometimes the teachers are surprised to notice that the students are much advanced than their level.

-The importance of coming back…

I came for about 6 weeks and I haven’t been able to go to my native village and see my family because as soon as I got back to Asmara, I started working at the School of Health Sciences. I have a duty to my school and the society as I have spent long years studying and about 7 years teaching. So it’s part of me.

Of course, first, I am personally ‘developing’ but while doing that, I have to make sure that the person next to me is also developing. And because I know how hard can it be to achieve your good and I see it as a duty for me to come back and teach them, mentor them to achieve more. What’s the good I get if I just care about my own development while I know that back where I grew up, back where I studied and was taught, they are still struggling in terms human resources or materials and in looking at a mentor?

When you the students them that you are like them, that even though you are studying abroad, coming back during your study break and teaching for free… I guess, it stays in one’s mind and I am always proud to see how they start from scratch and manage to achieve a lot within a short period of time.

-When you told your schoolmates that you are from Eritrea, what were their views?

Well, not very positive. They were shocked and commonly they would say “oh is it safe?”, “how could you go out?” to mention a few. But I tell them, I’m going back during my break. At the beginning they wouldn’t understand it at all. But I noticed how Eritrea is way safer than places in Europe. I remember once in Germany, during a training, we were advised not to walk out late at night or to go to certain areas. You wouldn’t hear that in Eritrea.

-What should be done?

Well, when I first arrived in Europe, I was surprised to witness the wrong perceptions of Eritrea and even of us, the people. It may be our fault. It is probably out of my competences but I think we have to be able to talk about Eritrea ourselves instead of letting those who don’t know about our country to widespread a wrong image of Eritrea. And for sure, people like me living abroad, should not to be quiet when we hear wrong things said about Eritrea… we should be able to explain our situation.

-Let’s go back to Eritrea’s health care…

For sure, when we compare Eritrea within the African continent and especially within our region. Eritrea isn’t doing badly but we still have a lot of work to do. I believe that we need to enhance the relations between patients and health professionals as a key element in health care.