With a growing interest in global health, I wanted to see a healthcare system that was different from my native Nigeria and the UK. Even more, I wanted to be involved in a rural healthcare project. Therefore I seized the opportunity to travel to Ghana via AIESEC for 6 weeks.
Although I was excited to go to this new country to learn as much medicine as the doctors were ready to teach, try new foods, speak bits of a new language and experience Ghana in general, I worried about how much impact I was going to have. I had read so many articles about volunteers taking space, and going abroad for pictures without doing anything and this was the last thing I wanted to do. Relatedly, I was worried if this experience was worth spending the remainder of my student loans on. I am grateful to all the doctors, nurses, Ghanaian students and other health workers in the hospitals for making it a worthwhile experience.
I spent 6 weeks in Manyhia (pronounced Menshiah) District Hospital located in Kumasi Ghana shadowing doctors alongside other health professionals and interacting with patients. During the 6 weeks, I saw for myself what doctors and medical students meant when they said ‘the health insurance was collapsing’. I saw patients pay for the disposable plastic cover on the beds in maternity wards. I saw a young man enduring so much pain from suspected pyelonephritis (kidney infection) because he had no insurance. No one would start antibiotics without being sure he was going to pay. Additionally I quickly began to realise despite being black, how common fibroids and hernias are in black people. I saw how even if some conditions could be managed successfully, some patients came to hospital at such a late stage of their disease for fear of hospital fees among other reasons. To say the least, I was reminded of the importance of free healthcare systems like the NHS in the UK .
(I would like to point out that these issues may be more marked in district hospitals compared to the teaching hospital)
Beyond the frustrations, I was encouraged by seeing pregnant women in so much agony during labour but smiling from ear to ear the next morning because the storm was over-their babies were born healthy. It was also thrilled by seeing how relieved mothers were when they brought their children back for hernia reviews post-surgery.
During the medical outreach at a physically challenged home, I got the opportunity to use my rudimentary twi (language of the Ashanti region in Ghana) in calming the patients down before their finger pricks. I had the opportunity to carry out blood group and hepatitis B testing as well as hepatitis vaccinations.
On a lighter note, I learnt that it is very hard to convince a Ghanaian that I am indeed Nigerian. In all, I am here to say Nyame Medasee (thank you), Ghana Medasee, Principal’s Go abroad fund Medasee!!