Credit goes to Lisa Bowers, RN for this wonderful series of daily diary entries from our medical mission October 2016. I've added a few photos. I hope you enjoy stepping into our world for a little while! If you'd like to experience Ghana while truly helping people in need, join us for a humanitarian mission. Healthy Villages, Inc. will organize every aspect of your mission and make sure you have a meaningful experience!
We got to sleep in today!! Instead of breakfast at 6:30 it was at 7:30. We aren't setting up clinic today but are going to the closest hospital in the area in the town of Aflao--about an hr and 15 minutes away. Joe Degley, the Municipal Director of Health Services Ketu South invited the team to visit and interact with management and staff and explore areas of future cooperation. We all were ready for a little down time after three successful but exhausting days.
The drive to the hospital took us through the fishing village of Agavedzi, our second day of clinic and past miles of salt mining land. A growing problem with salt mining is that big cooperations from outside the country see the potential revenue in this and are trying to get villages and towns to let them bring in their big equipment to do the mining. They promise the chiefs great wealth for their villages but as usual don't fulfill their promises and strip the land. We saw one huge mining operation where this has happened. We also passed lots of onion fields-acres planted, cultivated and harvested by hand. The land is beautiful but unfortunately littered with debris and trash.
Aflao is a big town/city indurated with people and shops all trying to sell something. You need drinks, bicycle tires, shoes, or a casket-- there is a shop for each! We arrived and first met with Joe who had an office in front of the hospital. And to our utter amazement and delight it was air conditioned!!! We thought we stepped into heaven! Really! You have no idea what it's like to not be able to get away from the heat unless you've experienced it. Joe is not a doctor but wanted to know about our experiences so far and what we felt the greatest needs were. We then walked to the hospital and met with the medical director, a surgeon, and the financial director. We were able to ask questions and learned a lot. Their number one cause of mortality is malaria but 2nd and rapidly closing in on first is HIV. The biggest challenge the hospital faces is financial. Health insurance is fairly affordable through the govt but reimbursement is spotty and sparse. They may go months without reimbursement and therefore staff don't get paid and supplies become hard to get. The hospital nurse Vivian who worked with us all week hadn't been paid in several months. She survives by making and selling Baboa juice on the side which consumes most of her time outside of work.
We then went on a tour. Let me try to describe the hospital for you. There was a children's, men's, woman's, labor and delivery ward, emergency, and operating room wards. Each ward was a separate building and connected by covered sidewalks. None were air conditioned, all were one big room with beds. The children's ward was full and each child appeared to have a parent or relative with them. The sidewalks and grassy/dirt areas between buildings had lots of people milling around or sleeping. The maternity ward had two small labor and delivery rooms. Equipment was sparse and the water supply was often a lg plastic trash can with a spigot attached to the bottom (see pictures). The waiting room to the ER was full and was a roofed building with half walls. The ER itself looked similar to the wards. They were doing their monthly cleaning of the OR that day which explained why the OR beds and equip was out on the sidewalk being washed down. Not kidding! Wendy, being an oncology NP who helps in OR cases wanted a tour. They only allowed two to go in as they were cleaning so I volunteered! We had to take our shoes off and wear flip flops they provided. The two operating rooms reminded me of a two-car garage. There was an air conditioning unit in each that was used during cases. Again equipment was primitive at best and not at all plentiful. There are five doctors at this hospital and all are required to live on the property. There is no cafeteria or laundry at the hospital. Family provides the patients meals and linens. Family also have to purchase medicines at the pharmacy down the street. It was quite humbling.
Our wonderful cooks again brought lunch to us which we were allowed to eat in Joes air conditioned office! It was our favorite--cooked beans with the tomato and onion sauce and plantains.
On the way back we stopped along the road and walked to the beach were 100 plus men, women and children were pulling in fishing nets. We had to join them!! It was fascinating! The nets I'm going to guess were at least a quarter mile or more long. They are piled into a wooden boat with several men who row it across the harsh waves a good distance from shore. One man then jumps out with a rope attached to the net and swims it back to shore. The rest start dropping the net into a large semicircle and then bring the other end to shore. In the middle of the net is a large pocket that collects fish as they manually haul the nets back in. There were fish of all varieties and sizes in the net and none went to waste. The men and women sorted the fish into sizes and even tiny one inch fish were saved. How they divided up the fish among them I'm not sure. There is no refrigeration or preservation of food except for drying so the bigger fish had to be sold fairly quickly or eaten. Godfried bought a barracuda from the stash and had our staff charcoal it for dinner! It is a delicacy there and apparently an expensive menu item in restaurants. Everyone loved it!
We didn't venture into the ocean as there was a rather steep drop off from the beach to the water and waves were harsh. We were also told that undercurrents were bad but we saw little kids diving into the waves like they owned them! Sitting and listening to the waves and feeling the ocean breeze brought much needed relaxation and time to meditate. Prayers went out to my mother and family. My mom had back surgery two days before we left and was suffering from unexpected complications. Today was the day they'd find out if she needed more surgery. (I'm very grateful to say prayers were answered and more surgery wasn't needed. After 9 days in the hospital she was going to rehab the next day!)
Janeas who was thankfully feeling much better opted to go back and rest in the shade of palm trees next to a small village of homes. Heading back to the van we found her surrounded by a group of children as she was teaching them English phrases! They had earlier saved her from a mean dog who was about ready to attack her by throwing coconuts and sticks at it and we're now her BFFs!
Back at the compound we were going to work on the record books of our patients so far but we ended up retiring to our rooms and resting. We were then rested up enough for a walk back to the local bar for a cold drink to have with dinner. It was a good day. Tomorrow it will be back to work!