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 saw lots of ringworm (a skin fungal condition that causes round areas of hair loss), respiratory illness and infection, intestinal worms, and malaria. The weather has been unusually cool, with temperatures in the 70s Fahrenheit during the day, breezy and cloudy. This made it comfortable for all of us working in the villages, but “cold” for the children, thus leading to colds and coughs. We had several extremely serious cases of malnourishment/malnutrition/failure to thrive. In one case, the child was about half the normal size and weight for her age. Sadly, the child’s parents died when the child was an infant, and the caregiver did not seem to realize anything was wrong with the child. Another baby was brought to us near death. The teenage mom stated she took the baby to the hospital but nothing was done for the baby. We had a feeling there was more to the story, and that possibly the mom was HIV positive and transmitted the infection to her baby, and that she didn’t want to fully divulge this information. We referred the mom and baby back to the hospital for further treatment. We had several children with open, infected sores that we dressed and treated with antibiotics. We were glad to be able to treat these wounds before they became serious.
One boy was a repeat patient from last October’s mission, who came to us with tumors covering his arm. It looked as though his arm had been cut in places, perhaps in an attempt to drain the growths. Unfortunately, his arm was looking worse, and probably needs to be amputated. The parents had not followed up on our previous hospital referral. Hopefully, this time they will. The sad fact is that the family probably cannot afford the extensive treatment the boy will probably need, which is only available at the larger and better equipped teaching hospitals in distant cities.
We heard several parents attribute their child’s illness or condition to “witchcraft.” The suspicion of the influence of evil forces causing illness is common in the villages, where people more often follow traditional religious beliefs and are not well educated. Allowing for the fact that there may be spiritual causes for physical illness in some cases, many conditions that could be simply treated with medication go untreated for months or years, while the family seeks healing from traditional healers that is ineffective. Unfortunately, epilepsy/seizure disorder is a common condition attributed to “witchcraft” and children go without simple, effective medical treatments. We learned on a tour of the municipal hospital in the border town of Aflao, that the hospital staff tries to meet the patient where they are, in terms of their belief system, tailoring treatment in a way that they will understand and adhere to.
We’re always looking for ways to improve our healthcare missions, and we got some good feedback from our volunteers. They felt that having at least one optometrist or ophthalmologist and at least one dental hygienist or dentist along on each mission would be a huge benefit. Our hygienist on this trip was so needed, to examine children who were having oral pain, treat them with silver nitrate solution and apply fluoride. Yet, she wished she could have done more to clean teeth and educate the children in proper dental care. We also had patients who had problems with vision, and having an eye practitioner along would have been a real bonus. Food for thought for the future, as we recruit volunteers!
We had several days off, and spent them searching the local markets for treasures to bring home, going to the beach, enjoying an afternoon at a small resort on the ocean, and taking an impromptu boat ride on the Volta River. We ended the trip in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, doing more souvenir shopping in the big markets and the well-known Arts Market.
Our volunteers left with lots of goodies for family and friends, and many memories of Ghana and her people. We are grateful and humbled by their willingness to venture to a developing country, and share their professional ability with the poor. During the 13 days they were here, we became a team – and a family. We miss them already! We’re looking forward to our next mission, in late October, which is focused on women’s health.
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