From August 5 through 17, 2017, Healthy Villages, Inc. (in conjunction with Show Me Your Stethoscope – SMYS) carried out a healthcare mission in the lower Volta Region of Ghana, devoted to the care and treatment of children. We had four healthcare practitioners from the U.S. on this mission – three registered nurses, and one dental hygienist. Our Ghana-based staff consisted of seven people – a pharmacist, a physician’s assistant, and five community health specialists, who were partnered with our volunteers for language interpreting and mutual education and learning.
We did outreach in six different remote communities during this mission, seeing and treating a total of 1259 children. The youngest child we saw was a newborn of one-week old, and the eldest was 15 years old. This was the largest number of patients who have come to us during the six clinic days of our missions. We were surprised and gratified at the number of children to whom we offered care. It was also surprising how many children were quite ill, received multiple diagnoses, and went home with several different medications to treat those illnesses. We expected about half the number of children, and expected to be focusing more on well-child exams and distribution of vitamins and de-wormer. Part of the reason for this is that during general health missions, caregivers bring very few children to be seen. We felt we had performed a great service to the young by focusing solely on age 15 and under, because we now realize that children’s healthcare needs may go unaddressed.
It’s hard to believe that our fourth healthcare mission is over, and our four volunteers (one dental hygienist, and three registered nurses) have just arrived back home in the U.S. All of us – organizers, volunteers, and Ghana-based staff – are feeling a real sense of accomplishment. It always happens that despite our best efforts at organizing everything down to the last detail, something happens to change our plans. We’ve learned to roll with it and expect the best, and that’s what happened this time too.
In our last mission, we tried doing things a little differently and focusing on three villages, for two days each, to be able to see everyone who wanted to be seen and not have to turn anyone away. It also gave us the flexibility to leave our boxes of medications at the clinic where we were working for that two days and have less time spent setting up and organizing ourselves. We intended to go to three villages for the pediatric mission too, but due to various circumstances, we ended up moving from one village to the next each day we worked – for a total of six different villages. Over the course of the six days, we saw and treated a total of 1258 children, the most patients we’ve had for a mission so far!
We still have two missions to go for 2017, but we're already gearing up for 2018! We know that mission trips are a financial commitment, and we want to give everyone ample time to fundraise. Just a note on fundraising - we've had volunteers who've done some pretty incredible fundraisers and not only paid for their expenses, but donated money to Healthy Villages so we can continue our work. If you're dedicated and focused, it's very possible to meet your expenses for the mission. We'll provide you with some suggestions for fundraising.
Next year, we have four "regular missions" scheduled - Women's Health, Pediatrics, Dental and Vision, and General Medical. These will all follow our usual itinerary - we'll go to three different remote villages for two days each. We'll be centered in the southern Volta Region of Ghana and travel to the villages where the Ghana Health Service director for our region sees the most need.
Below are links to the website pages that describe each of these missions. Click on the date to go right to the page. You can also navigate to each descriptive page by clicking on "Health Missions" and then on the grey highlighted dates on the Health Missions page.
February 24 - March 8: Women's Health Mission
March 24 - April 5: Dental and Vision Mission
June 30 - July 12: Pediatric Mission
November 3-15: General Medical Mission focused on diabetes screening and treatment
You'll find information about the missions, as well as cost, travel, etc., on the pages.
We're trying something new and exciting in 2018 in addition to our "regular missions" - we've scheduled three "Medical Volunteer Tourism Missions" that are fundraisers for our organization. If you want to do a few days of volunteer mission work and see the sights in Ghana for the remainder of your trip, these are for you! Each of them focuses on a different part of the country with different activities. The price is higher, but remember, you can take a tax deduction for all of our mission trips. The volunteer tourism trips are a great way to enjoy some fun travel, help those in need, and support our continued efforts to bring sustainable health to poor villages in Ghana. Here are the dates:
July 28- August 11: Medical Volunteer Tourism - King Festival, Cultural Sightseeing, Wildlife
October 6-20: Medical Volunteer Tourism - Sea Turtle Rescue, Community Development, Culture & Wildlife
December 1-15: Medical Volunteer Tourism - Ecotourism, Wildlife, Culture
The volunteer tourism missions are for four to six people, and can include any healthcare profession. If we have a group of six, we can even include two non-medical volunteers. Bring your significant other and we will find ways s/he can contribute to the healthcare mission!
Please email us if you have any questions - firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/healthyvillagesghana/
We're excited about next year's missions, and we know you will be too! Our volunteers mean so much to the people of the Volta Region, who have limited to no access to healthcare.
LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU IN GHANA IN 2018!
Well, I finally made myself sit down and go through those 1000+ intake forms that have been sitting on my table since I got back from Ghana a month ago! Now all the data is entered, nice and neat, on spreadsheets and I've put together some thoughts on the mission, based on what we recorded. Please note that this is not a scientific study, nor should it be taken as such. But, I think it will give the readers a better idea of what sort of work we do, and the impact we make on the poor villages we work in.
We conducted outreach clinics in three different communities in Southeastern Ghana (Volta Region) - two remote villages, and one small town. In all cases, the patients we saw had come from the numerous villages surrounding the clinic locale. People who can't afford medical care get excited when the "American doctors" come to town and will walk miles to be seen. So although the clinics were held in specific places, our patients didn't necessarily come from that village/town.
In total, we saw and treated 1065 patients, ranging in age from one month, to 108 years old! Our nurse practitioner and three RNs worked alongside our Ghana Health Service team of a physician's assistants, nurses, and a pharmacist, to diagnose and treat these patients.
As I write this, it’s hard to believe that just a couple weeks ago we took our four volunteers to the airport to fly back to the US. It was an intense 13 days, and along with our Ghana based staff, we all became a team that worked together like a well-oiled machine. Over six clinic days (two days each in three different remote villages) we evaluated and treated 1065 patients.
Some medical conditions are very common in this tropical country but unheard of in the U.S., so our three RNs and one NP learned a few things – likewise, they could share their training and expertise with our Ghanaian medical staff during the mission.
In just a few days, I'll be leaving for Ghana. After a day to rest up from the 24-hour trip, Godfried and I will be putting last minute preparations in place for the arrival of three RNs and one nurse practitioner from the U.S. That means we'll be buying prescription medications from our pharmacy contact in Accra, and test kits for malaria, TB, HIV and several sexually transmitted infections. Then we'll be traveling out to the village (about a four hour drive from Accra) to meet with our Ghana Health Service staff, organize the mission itinerary, check on lodging and make arrangements with our cooks. Then we drive back to Accra to get ready for the nurses' arrival!
And then the fun begins! Having prepared as much as humanly possible, we will open our hearts and trust that we will be ready to handle any situation that arises. One thing we know is that we'll have plenty of patients. People in the poor, remote villages in Ghana are so desperate for medical care that they will wait their turn for hours and be grateful to be seen.
As always, we invite your monetary support for any of our ongoing projects. All donations are tax deductible!
Those little plastic prescription medicine containers - what the heck do you do with them when they're empty? We can use them! On our medical missions, we dispense small amounts of medication from large bottles of meds. There aren't any medicine containers available - generally meds are dispensed in small Ziploc bags. Bringing used containers with us solves a couple of problems: we can re-use your plastic bottles that might get thrown in the trash, and our patients can keep their meds clean, dry and safe from the kids. Here are a few ideas and guidelines for collecting medicine containers and getting them to us.
Some of the fine folks who support Healthy Villages, Inc. have spearheaded their own medicine bottle collection drives. You can do this by posting information on your neighborhood Facebook page, in your church bulletin, or even asking your doctor if you can put a collection box in their clinic. Finding a new home for those pesky plastic bottles is pretty popular. Here's a word to the wise though: ask your bottle donors to remove the label before they hand them over! I recently visited a friend who'd been collecting bottles from her neighbors for months - she had a huge bag full of them - mostly with the labels still on.
We need the labels removed for a couple of reasons. We don't want to take any chances bringing bottles labeled with someone else's information into a foreign country - we never know what Ghana customs officials will take offense to. Also, we need to clearly write the name of the meds being put in the bottle, and the dosage. My friend and I spent hours trying to figure out how to get these super sticky labels off - I swear some of them must be put on with super glue! Here's the easiest way I've found:
Get a cheap jar of smooth peanut butter. Smear the peanut butter over the label. Let it sit overnight or longer. Voila - the label will come right off! Then wash the outside of the bottle to get any peanut butter residue off. I guess it's the oil in the peanut butter that does it, but using straight oil is a mess and the oil doesn't easily come off the plastic. (Tried that, and still washing oil off bottles!) If the label STILL won't come off - just put the bottle in your recycling. If you send it to us with the sticky bits and parts of the label still on it, that's what I'll do with it, so save yourself the postage.
Another note: we can't use glass bottles. Plastic ones are light weight and easy to pack in a big suitcase. Glass ones are heavy and breakable...
In our upcoming mission in April, we probably went through about 1500 meds containers! A new goal of mine is to see if we can get the patients to bring them back to their nearest local clinic when they're empty, so the nurses can re-use them. It would also be a small step toward environmental awareness in the rural villages.
If you have bottles to donate, please contact me and I'll give you an address in the US to send them to.
It may be surprising to us in the "western world" that millions of poor girls and women in developing countries have little to no access to the products necessary to manage their menstrual cycle. For five or so days each month, their lives are disrupted because they have no way to catch the flow of blood. This can lead to girls dropping out of school, early pregnancy and marriage, and loss of income when women stay at home during their period. In an attempt to avoid soiling their clothing, they may use dirty cloths, leaves, or even animal dung to catch their flow. "Menstrual Hygiene Management" (MHM) is seen as vitally important to reaching and sustaining goals set by the United Nations in the areas of education and gender equality (see: http://www.sswm.info/content/menstrual-hygiene-management).
Oftentimes, the lack of menstrual hygiene products is coupled with a lack of education around basic women's health questions like, why do we menstruate? what does menstruation have to do with reproduction? how can I avoid pregnancy? how can I protect myself from getting a sexually transmitted infection? Menstruation, sexuality and reproduction are often taboo subjects and simply not discussed at all.
Disposable pads are a convenient way to catch the monthly blood flow, but in most poor regions (like where we work in Ghana), they're too costly and not easy to get, given that the nearest market is miles away and there is no transportation. Washable/re-usable pads are a good option - and here's where Healthy Villages comes in.
We are currently exploring options to bring this important project to Ghana!
This year, we'll be continuing our partnership with Show Me Your Stethoscope (SMYS) to bring teams of nurses and nurse practitioners to Ghana to treat villagers in underserved, remote areas. We were initially asked to organize two missions - in April and October. The two trips filled up almost immediately, so we added a third mission trip in August. Here's a little about the focus of each mission: