Saturday, March 8, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Spend Another Busy Day in a Ghanaian Clinic

Friday arrived and the midwifery class was over so Robin, Sue and I were off to a hospital on the Gold Coast of Ghana. However, first a few of us had to stop at a bank to cash some travelers checks which ended up taking a lot longer than anticipated because of traffic. But it had taken days to find a bank that would cash travelers checks so we had go. This made us so late getting to the clinic in the morning. We didn’t arrive until 9:30 am when we usually get there around 8:30. Already people were lined up waiting to be seen by Dr. Polifka, Faye and Christella and the nurse-educators—Joy, Marley and David—got straight to work teaching because the class was set to end early. This also meant that the midwifery trip had to be postponed until Monday because it would take us three hours to get to the hospital and it would be too late. We have to be back in the city by 7:00 pm every night for security reasons. Luckily we could get a hold of the nurses we were going to visit and reschedule.

In Ghana distance usually isn’t the problem. The two lane roads and insane traffic are the problem. There are little taxis weaving in and out of traffic and buses crowded beyond capacity everywhere. Very few of us are brave enough to sit in the passenger front seat because it is so scary to watch the driving. It’s funny to listen to everyone catch their breath after we narrowly miss another car. There are always tons of people out, all hours of the day, walking alongside the traffic and between cars selling fruit, water, candy, tummy trimmers and other various things. It’s almost as if all the tummy trimmers from the 80’s that didn’t sell wound up in Ghana. We have three drivers. They drive us around in mini-vans and are all pretty young. Joseph, Ebenezer, and Matthew are all very nice to us and answer all any questions we have about things we see as we drive along the road. They even taught Christella how to say good morning and thank you. Although they speak English in Ghana there are also 12 different dialects.

Well, because the midwives and I were unable to go to the hospital as we had planned, they headed back to the compound early afternoon to get some rest and hit the internet cafĂ©. I stuck around and walked around the clinic taking pictures and listening in on the nurse educators classes. The clinic is a little building with people waiting outside in the heat. Its perimeter is surrounded by makeshift shacks that people live in. At any point in time you see children running around playing and goats grazing on the dry grass. This is the dry season in Ghana. It is really hot with a lot of humidity but never any rain to break the heat, so there isn’t anything that is really green. In fact the floors in our barracks, shoes and socks are often coated in red dirt at the end of the day from being outside. We are all amazed at how the Ghanaian women keep their clothes always looking so clean and bright because most of the time we can’t. As I walked around the clinic I felt a little uncomfortable taking a picture of people waiting because some looked so miserable and in pain. Most of them had been sitting there for hours waiting to be seen by the “American Doctors”. I would walk by and they would all say hello, ask me questions and then say they were in a hurry as if to ask me when they would be seen. It was hard to tell them there was nothing I could do to help them because I was not one of the doctors. It’s not that the doctors weren’t working fast enough but that a lot of the cases being seen were so grave and they were using translators because of all the dialects so it was taking more than just five minutes to see each patient. Our volunteers really want to give quality care since they are only here for two weeks. And honestly in three days they had seen over 300 people. This impressive considering each volunteer providing care has a different specialty.

Dr. Polifka is an ER physician, Faye is a pediatric nurse practitioner and Christella is a nurse practitioner with experience in women’s health. The other night I interviewed Dr. Polifka for an article I am writing about his work with Project HOPE and the two big suitcases of $1,200 of prescription medicine, which he personally brought with him, and he said “I’m impressed by how sick some people here are. When I was working in Latin America in a day I would see 50 to 60 patients of that maybe 10 percent were really sick. Here 60 to 75 percent are really sick, many with active malaria, TB, typhoid fever and all the diseases associated with poverty.” Around eleven in the morning Nii Adjei Kraku II—the Chief of Tema, where the Manhean Clinic is located— showed up for a ceremony. We were officially handing over the over $1.2 million of medical supplies and medicines we had donated to the clinic. The donation included items from U.S. pharmaceutical companies such as Merck & Co., Inc., sanofi pasteur, Abbott Laboratories Fund, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Schering-Plough Corporation, 3M Company, Hospira, Inc. and Codman & Shurtleff, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson Company.

We had one reporter there from the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. She interviewed Dr. Polifka, the Chief and others. The Chief was extremely grateful for the donation and said he would make sure all the medicines and supplies would be used properly and invited all of Project HOPE to his palace next week. Hopefully we will actually get to visit his palace. I think the volunteers would really enjoy hanging out with the Chief for a couple hours. A few of them took the opportunity to get their pictures taken with the Chief and his staff.

While at the clinic I also visited the nurse educator’s class. The class was full of enthusiastic nurses learning everything from diabetes, CPR to the Heimlich maneuver. Joy first demonstrated on Marley while David talked and then the nurses were given the opportunity to try. It was very fun to watch. After the class was done they all received a certificate of training for completing the three day course. They were so excited and clapping for each other. They were even excited about the pencils we handed them. Many of them gave Marley and Joy a hug but were a little shy to hug David. Towards the end however, David finally got some hugs and everyone laughed and clapped. It was such a nice group. Some hung around after the class and continued to ask questions because they were so interested in how they could help their people.

Nursing doesn’t seem to just be a profession for these Ghanaian Nurses. They are extremely passionate about what they are doing and really want to make a difference. While we waited for the physicians to finish up their last patients, Joy, Marley, David and I hung outside with some of the children that were hanging around the clinic. They were so funny and would pose when they saw a camera. Then we would show them the camera and they would point to each other in and giggle. They were so amused. Joy gave them gum, so we have a feeling more children will be around on Monday, and we shared some bottled water we had in the van with them after we put some orange drink powder in them. The immediately started sharing everything amongst each other. You could tell which ones were related because they would protect each other. There was a little girl who looked to be about three years old in the group and she was terrified of David. He is rather tall so we think she was scared of his height. He tapped her on the shoulder to help her get her gum open, she turned around looked up and ran towards her brother. Later David sat down next to her on the clinic stoop, she didn’t notice him for about two minutes but once she did she again moved. It was so cute.

The primary care team finally came out after seeing over 120 patients and we headed home.

--Marisol Euceda

Help support Project HOPE's health education and humanitarian assitance mission in Africa.

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