It is with great sadness that I write today’s post.
We spent the last two days in “the bush”, rural villages located far from the main roads. Access to these deep interior villages are only though dirt paths barely wider than our vehicle. Here, villagers live isolated in extreme poverty, without electricity or running water. We had just finished meeting with a small group of Christians in one village, when a man asked us to come to his hut to pray over his sick grandson. The moment we saw the two year old boy, even with our limited understanding of tropical diseases, we knew that he was in critical condition. We quickly made the decision to pack him into our truck and rushed him to Gushiegu Hospital. There, he was diagnosed with severe malaria. After paying for his hospital admission, we left the family and returned home for the night.
This morning, the pastor came to inform us that the little boy had passed away. It was quite a shock to us, as we were expecting to hear good news since he was now under the care of trained medical professionals. In reality, we had gotten him to the hospital far too late, and there was nothing that could be done to save him. The boy was brought back to the village this morning, and we participated in his burial. His grave is dug next to two others, one for a child who had died seven months ago, and another for a child who had died three years ago. They were all from the same extended family.
It is one thing to speak theoretically about poverty, but it is quite another thing to come face to face with the very real and tragic consequences of being poor. The solution is complex, but we must begin to ask ourselves, “how are we to respond”?
We arrived in Gushiegu on Saturday night. This district of approximately 5000 marks the most northern part of our trek in Ghana. The environment here is different than the other places that we have visited so far. There is no running water in our guest house here at the moment, so we have had to bring buckets of water from a nearby pumping station. Showering consists of pouring cups full of cold water over our bodies. We have quickly learned to lather our entire bodies first before rinsing to conserve water! It makes sense if you think about having to make a trip to the pumping station every time you need water.
Today we visited Gushiegu District Hospital, a very modern looking 100-bed facility built in 2008 with the support of the Dutch government. The hospital’s only doctor travels from Tamale and spends a few days here each week. The rest of the time, the hospital is run by medical assistants and nurses. There is no physiotherapist here because the hospital simply does not have the money, though they are more than willing to accept therapists on a volunteer basis. We had a chance to round with the doctor this morning, and witnessed a hernia surgery this afternoon. We will most likely not spend too much time at this hospital since it does not have a physiotherapy department, but it was good to get to know the hospital and the team here. We will stay here for another couple more days to work with the local church here and then start descending south to Bimbilla on Thursday.
We have just finished our two days at Tamale Teaching Hospital. Though it is
the largest hospital in the north, the entire department consists of only 5
physiotherapists (PTs) and 1 physiotherapy assistant (PTA). It is also the only
place to provide physiotherapy services in Tamale. I actually got a little more
of a chance to do some hands-on work with patients here. All therapists work in
the outpatient clinic in the morning, and in the afternoon, they travel to the
hospital wards to see patients. They all move around together, seeing
paediatric patients first, then post-surgical patients, then finally acute
stroke patients. They are hard workers!
Today I got to give them a little educational workshop as well. I presented
them with a condensed version of the seminar I gave in Kumasi. We had to teach
over the lunch hour, but they didn’t seem to mind. I have found that most
therapists that I have met so far here are thirsting for new knowledge and new
skills. Many have aspirations to complete a Masters in Physiotherapy, but it is
currently not available here in Ghana and they cannot afford foreign tuition
I left Tamale Teaching Hospital today wondering whether I had, in such a
short stay here, been able to contribute something of worth to my colleagues in
Tamale. I hope that I have, but I know that I have profited as well. The
connections that I have made, and my gains in understanding of how the health
care system works here is invaluable to me, should I return again, which I know
After passing through Atebubu and Yeji over the past couple of days, we have arrived
in Tamale, the capital of the North. Since we have had a short break from our hospital work, let me describe to you more about my surroundings.
I cannot mention Ghana without speaking of the traffic here. In major cities, the traffic is incredibly congested and learning to use one’s horn is key. A couple of short bursts with your car horn signals your intention to proceed, since road markings seem to hold no authority here. Seatbelts are a car ornament, if they exist at all. Merchants weave in
and out of traffic, selling everything from bread to water to fresh fruit. I have to admit, it is quite convenient to be able to do all of one’s grocery shopping on the commute home without ever leaving their car!
In terms of wildlife, goats and chickens roam freely like citizens here. They are not wild animals though, as each belongs to a specific owner. The extraordinary thing is that no one worries about their livestock, because each one knows to return to its owner when it gets dark. Also common here are lizards. They are like squirrels in our country, but most of them are barely larger than the palm of my hand. Indeed, one or two of them have already made their way into our room, but you get used to it.
Ok, back to work tomorrow! I will post more after visiting the physiotherapy
department at Tamale Teaching Hospital.
Today was our last day at Komfo-Anokye teaching hospital. Yesterday, we spent the morning touring around the many wards the hospital. I was mistaken in my last post; KATH actually holds 2000 beds, not 1000! I spent the afternoon seeing patients with the therapists, demonstrating exercise techniques and teaching stroke and orthopaedic rehabilitation principles.
Today, I spent most of the day teaching a seminar on exercise prescription, sponsored by the Ghana Association of Physiotherapists (GAP). Some therapists even travelled several hours to this workshop! I was asked to teach on the foundations of developing exercise programs and I also taught principles of core stability and using stability balls and theraband as exercise tools. Theraband is not only expensive to purchase for the hospitals here, it is also not readily available in Ghana. St. John’s Rehab was generous enough to donate a roll of theraband for me to teach with, and let me tell you that it was much appreciated! The therapists here are always thirsting for new knowledge, and welcome foreign therapists to come over here and teach.
Saturday is a travel day. We will spend the weekend visiting churches and missionaries as we continue to head north in the country. Now we will definitely be leaving behind the comforts of air conditioning and paved roads. See you in Tamale!
Greetings from Kumasi!
After a day of travel yesterday, we arrived at Komfo-Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) today. KATH is a 1000 bed institution located in Ghana’s second largest city. Because of its size and the fact that it is located along major road networks, this hospital receives referrals from all areas of the northern and central parts of Ghana. The physiotherapy (PT)department is fantastic and consists of 12 therapists, the entire collection of physiotherapists in the city.
My first impression was that the amount of knowledge they possess and their heart to serve people is incredible. Every Wednesday, the entire PT department shuts down to volunteer their time without pay to run a club foot clinic. This is the only program of its kind in the country and here the therapists cast babies born with club foot as soon as one week after birth. Today I spent most of my time shadowing their work and trying to stay out of their way! I also got to understand a lot more of the challenges and struggles they face in delivering healthcare. More thoughts on this in a later post…