Saturday, July 30, 2011

UCLA Volunteers Measure, Weigh, Survey, and Master Taxi-Travel In Ghana

Emily and Sarah at work in Ampenkrom

 The taxi driver was more surly than average, but he recognized I was on a mission.  “Obruni, you are going to Ampenkrom?” Clearly he had seen a number of volunteers travelling to Ampenkrom recently.
“Yes, that’s right.  I’m going there to see baby weighing,” I said, thinking that if I brought infants into the conversation, I would get quicker transport results.  Instead, I got a shrug. Finally, with no sense of urgency, the driver got in his decrepit vehicle and I set off to Ampenkrom to see some babies get weighed. 

It was the work of the UCLA volunteer group collaborating with GHEI that I was really there to see.  Sarah Gustafson and Emily Huang were set up in a church with all sort of weights and measurements, and thick stacks of forms and surveys.  It seemed daunting to me, but Community Health Workers were there welcoming mothers and their children in soothing tones of Sefwi.  CHW’s Frieda Appiah, Dickson Ackah-Mensah, and GHEI staff Mensah Gyapong and Aggie Obeng performed the surveys, while Emily and Sarah weighed and measured the infants, and collected results.  After measuring  the child’s height, they delicately slung the baby in the scale.  No tears, no fuss, and the child seemed to understand that Sarah and Emily were having a great time.  By the time I arrived on the scene, a week into their work, they had seen over 80 babies, and apparently, all of them adorable.

The UCLA Global Health Elective is an opportunity for first year med school students to explore their interests in global health and volunteer abroad in the time between first and second year.   Placements were around the world, but Ghana was a popular choice, and the interview process was quite competitive.  The connection to GHEI was firmly established by GHEI executive director Diana Rickard, herself a UCLA residency and fellowship grad, and significant force in this volunteer program.  They were based in Ampenkrom, about 12 Kilometers (two rambunctious taxi rides) outside of Humjibre.  They were being hosted by the ever-likeable district assemblyman in Ampenkrom and CHW, Dickson Ackah-Mensah.  When the group gets back to the States, they will produce a report on their study findings to be shared with GHEI and conduct a poster presentation.


A few days later, I was in a packed taxi with the rest of the UCLA volunteer crew.  While Emily and Sarah worked in Ampenkrom each day, this group was mobile, and were visiting all the clinics and hospitals in the district.  Nikki Ross was gathering information at all the facilities regarding their ability to detect and refer congenital heart defects, as well as creating and  formalizing a referral process for GHEI to facilitate children in need to benefit from free surgery from the annual visit of The Boston Children’s Group  to Kom Fonokye in Kumasi.  Christina Siliciano was speaking with any doctors, nurses, or midwives who perform or assist in childbirth about their training in neo-natal resuscitation, as well as what equipment is available at each health facility for this important procedure.  Shelly Han was surveying all the health services in the district, finding out what supplies they have available, how many patients they treat, common medical cases seen, and essentially mapping out the health services in the district.

Nikki, Christina, Shelley, and the staff of the Chirano clinic

We were hurdling down the road with some pretty sweet reggae blasting, towards the clinic in Chirano.  I was given shotgun, because it was clear to all of us that they were more seasoned in ramshackle taxi travel in the last week and a half than I was in my three months in Ghana.  The road to Chirano was a dusty, bumpy monster, and I remarked out loud about this.  They all began speaking at once, this was nothing compared to the road to Merawa last week!  We emerged in Chirano, and the women set off with gusto to the clinic while I trailed behind, impressed and nursing my bruised Africanist-Traveller ego.

It was clear the women had been to many clinics before, and as they sat with the staff, the questions rattled off.  How many births take place here?  How many people assist in those births?  How many in-patients? What are the most common conditions that you refer out?  Would you be interested in Neo-Natal Resuscitation training?  Actually, the midwife at this clinic had some training with Beatrice Teatteh back in March, but would be interested in more.  

On the way back, Shelley, Nikki, and Christina got into a discussion.  Do we call it a day or do we continue on to Merawa?  They had only made it halfway there last week and were forced to turn back because the road was too bad and the rain too heavy.  Merawa was clearly the most remote clinic that they had on the list.  It looked sunny enough, but I excused myself to humbly head back to Humjibre, while they took off into the wild, where there was still a clinic to visit, a dusty road to conquer, and another surly taxi driver to contend with.  

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