Grant Work in Zimbabwe

David Kao at home with his cat, Figaro
David Kao at home with his cat, Figaro

Another of my Kao family members has joined the ranks of CarpeTravel’s on-location reporters. My cousin David Kao (son of Teresa who blogged her adventures in Salzburg) is sending posts from his travels in Africa Zimbabwe where he’s doing grant work training academic cardiologists. Dave tells me there are only two cardiologists left in the country (of 15 million people), and the duo are inching towards retirement age. A lot of physicians left during the last 15 years or so when the country really struggled, and though the medical education used to be one of the best in Africa, it has suffered. “I’m here giving lectures, teaching clinical skills like echocardiography, Holter interpretation, etc. and helping them set up research databases in order to become independent researchers,” said Dave. His grant is funded by the NIH through the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is a five year, many million dollar affair. Now in the second year on the ground he’s pleased to report they are making progress. They just had their second class of fellows inducted – pretty cool! He explains their formal collaboration is with the University of Zimbabwe College Of Health Sciences, though they lecture to undergrads as well. The main hospital is called Parirenyatwa, and the secondary is called Harare Central (sort of the Denver Health to Pari’s Anschutz).

Sit back and enjoy his reports on his work and his personal travel! Safe travels, cuz! And, nice work out there!  – Valerie Quintanilla 

By David Kao
Harare, Zimbabwe

We’ve already been in Harare for four days, but time has gone by very quickly. Harare is faring reasonably well. The city is Zimbabwe’s capital and the largest with an estimated population of around 1,606,000 and approximately 2,800,000 in the metro area.

Things seem functional, the shops are well-stocked, and there do not seem to be any other extraordinary supply issues beyond the usual for southern Africa.  It is one of the few circumstances where seeing traffic is quite welcome, as it implies that people have jobs to go to and they have enough money for vehicles and fuel. We have been eating well so far, though limited to places within walking distance of the flat and a spectacular spaghetti chicken alfredo at home.
It has been exciting to see the evolution of the cardiovascular training program here. Fourteen new scholars were added to the program today, and last year’s class is functioning more and more independently in managing cardiovascular disease. One can see potential completion of an entire training cycle of the first CHRIS scholars finishing their MMeds (essentially, fellowship) and starting to train new scholars themselves within a few years.  It appears that being part of the program is desirable for within the training programs and medical school, which is quite encouraging.  It is often difficult to share resources and knowledge in these settings without threatening our colleagues’ autonomy, but I think our group seems to have done a fairly good job of striking that balance.
Got to take a little time to run some errands this morning in town – it always changes one’s perspective to engage in normal daily activities in foreign places.  Lots of little operational differences, for example, at the bank. Long lines at bank opening, five tellers, but only two of them really doing anything meaningful with the other three simply avoiding eye contact. Lots of very loud stamping of every form, which is fairly typical at least in this part of Africa. I was very intrigued at just how much of the stocks in the shop are locally (Zimbabwe) produced.  Pretty much all fruit-based products like jams, and of course produce, are from various parts of Zimbabwe – even coffee!  The butcher section is quite diverse – I have never seen ‘goat chops’ before and decided to pass on them this time around. Every time I try to make goat, it tastes like dirt. For a while I thought it was just me, but I have cooked a lot of other stuff now, and it does not taste like dirt, so it must be the goat.
I believe plans are completely settled for my trip to the Mana Pools, at least as much as they can be. There is always a trade-off here between secure schedules and cost. One can get almost anywhere for almost no money if one doesn’t care when one arrives.  In this case, with only five to six days, I made the executive decision to care some about when I arrive.  Not enough to take an air charter, but more than taking a bus on a late Saturday afternoon and the morning of my flight home. In any event, I think it’s going to be quite spectacular.  The dry weather looks to be holding out, which bodes well for animal viewing along the river.
This weekend, we are hoping to make it to Great Zimbabwe – ruins of a grand Shona civilization from many hundreds of years ago.  Such ruins are found here and there in Africa, but this seems to be one of the most impressive.  If the plan goes through, we’ll head to the east of the country near Mozambique for the evening, then back to town on Sunday. I’m also hopeful that our plans to go see some local music come to fruition Friday night – always a highlight when it happens.
The most pleasant surprise so far has been the blooming of these local trees with very beautiful purple flowers.  I was here in February last time and did not get to see them.  They are a great splash of life in the morning.  Now, off to lunch (Nando’s!) and then more talking and teaching.  One thing’s been certain, we have not wanted for things to do!

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