An Incredible Life Transmuting Experience in Ghana by Dr. Kris Vijay
“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather, the feeling of being unwanted” Mother Teresa
The Project C.U.R.E. Team delivered health and optimism to a remote community in Ghana, Africa between November 4th and 13th, 2016. A team of 15 volunteers came together to serve the underserved in the Brong-Ahafo region. With the help of our host, Newmont Mining Corporation, two local doctors and many nursing students who served as translators as well as community leaders who mobilized the public of the screening, assessment and treatment programs, we shared practices across cultures and worked together to deliver health, hope and compassion to the people of Ghana. This was indeed a life changing experience for all from patients to participants.
Most of the team met in London On November 5th and flew together to Accra, Ghana. After extensive debriefing by our team leader Grace Shaw, we embarked on a journey by flight to Kumasi, about 125 miles Northwest from Accra, then by a mini bus to the Newmont mining site , about 70 miles northwest from Kumasi. We settled in our accommodation hosted by Newmont mining. At dinner, we had further debriefing and got ready for the next day.
The community served on Day 1 on November 7th was Ntotroso. The predominant disease states were hypertension, eye disease, parasitic diseases and chronic pain. We saw 275 patients on Day 1. On Day 2, we served the community of Kenyasi 2 at a community center indoors. Here again, the disease prevalence was different with communicable diseases being more predominant. We saw 514 patients on Day 2. On day 3, we worked very hard out in the sun with 114 degree temperature serving 540 patients beating the previous day’s record. The disease variations in these villages were intriguing. We were exposed to multiple different disease categories that included fungal, parasitic, chlamydial and acute and chronic bacterial infections mainly seen in communities living in close quarters together. On Day 4, we served the village of Wamahinasu where we helped 365 patients. Most common diseases here were Hypertension, eye disease, parasitic diseases and protein calorie malnutrition (PCM). It appeared that the chronic diseases of hypertension, chronic hip pain (addressed by locals as “waist pain “) and PCM was prevalent in most of these remote places. At the end of the day, we saw a few more Newmont employees back at the club house of Newmont Mining totaling 1701 subjects in 4 days.
The numbers were staggering in its magnitude in and of itself. And then, to have triaged all of them with measurements of anthropometrics, initial assessment and plan by nurses, with further diagnostic assessment and treatment by 3 doctors and a nurse practitioner along with intensive work by wound care team and pharmacy team distributing the medicines was indeed remarkable. One of the most difficult jobs was crowd management and regulating the work flow amidst the chaos of children running all over the place. One had to be vigilant of their fears and apprehensions with emotional swings and outbursts occurring throughout the day they were being seen. Every day was intense and filled with work load that was unimaginable. The team did a superb job of throughput management culminating in a satisfied patient at the end of their visit.
Many lessons were learned during this humanitarian medical mission at multiple levels. First, there was clearly an achievement of the goals and objectives of Project C.U.R.E. Delivery of medical relief to the needy people in the villages of Ghana with medical supplies and equipment was accomplished with great effort and enthusiasm by the volunteer Team. In the process, the volunteers, nursing students as well as the health care providers learned different disease states prevalent in these areas. Many of these diseases were being seen for the first time. This learning opportunity from a medical perspective was at multiple levels. It spanned from non-communicable diseases to communicable ones and opened our eyes to the challenges the communities face in improving basic healthcare. There were many gaps in sustaining the gain accrued which were addressed in terms of accessibility and referrals to a larger system to those in need. We were fascinated by their cultures and customs and at the same time acknowledged the impact of the very same attitudes in achieving optimized healthcare. We were instructed of the need to improve their health through impacting patient education, enhancing health and hygiene resources as well as aligning their own economic goals.
Second, at an interpersonal level, we were concerned about the collegiality that was needed to bring the project to fruition, given the fact that none of us knew each other at the get go. And yet within a day, we had developed a great rapport and camaraderie between individuals in the team as the overall objective of serving was visualized as paramount. While each one of the team members could have been a leader, it could also have jeopardized our mission with clash of egos coming in between our main purpose and multifaceted opinions that would restrict collaborative measures. Our team leader recognized this on Day one and immediately engendered confidence within us as we were told to be respectful of each other and the people we would serve. Each of us had the ability to be a friend while taking responsibilities, instilling confidence for each other and creating a palpable magnetism in spite of the internal dynamics that demanded a rapid pace. We continually simplified, refined and improved the process every day which in the end turned out overwhelmingly to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts!!
Third, at an individual level, before we began the project, each one of the team members had their own personal story filled with trials and tribulations of their own work and home environments. The situation we were all experiencing was pleading for some clarity and consistency in our lives. There was indeed a big crevasse that needed some kind of a fulfilment. By the end of this journey at Ghana, there were vivid images of passion and ocean of compassion flowing out of the secret chambers of our hearts while serving the less than fortunate. We learned humanism in this recommitment to the values that fortify our better lives. We learned to heal our own wounds while alleviating the fears of our patients. William Osler once stated that it is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease, than what sort of a disease a patient has. This sunk in and made our encounters with these patients more meaningful. In essence, we felt that we had connected the chasm between making a living and making a life!!