Returning to the continent where his father was shot by
rebels in the mid-1960s was a "personal journey" for Dunedin
paediatrician Prof Barry Taylor.
The University of Otago paediatrics and child health
researcher recently returned to Dunedin after assisting in a
children's ward at a hospital in Mbarara, Uganda. He also
taught a paper on child health at the Mbarara University of
Science and Technology, where the hospital was based.
It was Prof Taylor's first visit to Africa since leaving the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, aged 12, "under a cloud".
His father Cyril, a missionary, was shot and killed in a
hostage camp where the family was held during the 1964 Simba
rebellion. In a tragic finale to a happy African childhood,
Prof Taylor and his brother "ducked" the shots to escape the
He felt anxious about returning to Africa, and during his
first two weeks it was quite daunting to leave his dwelling.
Soon, however, he embraced the "chaos" of Mbarara after the
quiet of Dunedin.
He even took rides, without a helmet, on the motorbikes that
plied the streets.
He enjoyed the freedom, especially after leaving his role as
head of women's and children's health at the Dunedin School
of Medicine, after eight years.
He is soon to return to the department as head of children's
health. He looked forward to having fewer administrative
responsibilities in future.
Determined to do something useful, he did not want to return
to Africa as a tourist.
Two months of his five-month sabbatical were spent in
Patients in Dunedin Hospital's children's ward would mostly
not warrant treatment in Mbarara, given the severity of need
Malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition, tuberculosis and HIV were
Differences with New Zealand were stark. Clinical procedures
he normally took for granted, like checking blood sugar,
depended on available supplies of medical equipment.
Nursing care was minimal, and patients' families took a lot
of responsibility, including dispensing medication, feeding,
and changing bedding.
HIV was easier to treat than other diseases, because of
international aid money.
He was impressed with the local doctors' knowledge and
They referred him the more unusual cases for advice - but he
was also there to learn.
"I had to learn a lot very quickly."
Prof Taylor witnessed complications of malnutrition he had
previously seen only in textbooks.
While the other end of the spectrum was his usual focus as an
obesity researcher, the way the body dealt with malnutrition
was similar to the effects of overweight people trying to
lose weight by eating a lot less.
Obesity was not an issue in Uganda, but it was likely to
become one, as in all developing countries.
Middle-class Ugandan children were starting to eat highly
processed foods, such as "chips and coke", while the less
well-off ate a better diet based on vegetables, meat and
Before heading to Africa, he spent time at the London School
of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he collaborated with
researchers on electronic tools for GPs for childhood
He also spent time at Bristol University, and the Innocenti
Research Centre in Florence, Italy, which conducts research
Wife Helen Switzer joined him for the European legs of his