Plymouth team, Takoradi 15-22 NOVEMBER 2009
On the 15th of November at 4am a team of 9 arrived in Takoradi, Ghana. 101 procedures, 3 c-sections and one neonatal resuscitation later they returned. After a comfortable flight for some more than others we arrived at Accra airport to be greeted by Mr Oppong and a team ready to get us to Takoradi. After a bumpy few hours we reached the Villa and the smiling faces of the indispensible girls that would look after us for the next week.
We brought with us surgical equipment and also clothing- football shirts, chalk, maps. Coffee and cereals are very expensive there and I d recommend bring your own if you can t do without. After some rest we were taken out to see some of the surrounding area and stopped by a village in which a young boy had been diagnosed with talipes last year. This time a girl in her early 20s was brought to our attention she was unable to walk due to a gibbus. We later got her to Dixcove hospital where they commenced her on TB treatment which is free.
We worked from 3 centres; in Takoradi the Hernia centre and Ghana Health Ports Authority Hospital (GPHA) and for the first time the more rural Dixcove. I had the pleasure of visiting all 3 places. We were also joined by 4 surgical senior registrars from the Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana s second Medical School. This training was arranged by Mr Oppong and Prof Michael Ohene Yeboah.
My first day was at the hernia centre I walked in to theatre (the only place with air-con) and within the first few hours I had encountered the biggest hernia I had ever seen (that is till the next day). Over at GPHA there is only one theatre and one man and I finally had the pleasure of meeting the infamous Dr Bernard Boateng-Duah who was responsible for the smooth running of our stay. His unassuming manner belies the fact that he is responsible for all the cases at GPHA. I would also like to thank him for finding all the hernias and the t-shirt! My day at Dixcove started with a bumpy 45 minute journey in a version of an ambulance and I was sat on a seat. There one doctor covers the hospital and a population of 20,000 and he had a smile to greet us. His skills like many doctors in Ghana ranged from medicine to appendicectomies and caesareans. One theatre meant that occasionally lists were interrupted for emergencies. At all the theatres equipment was basic but the staff expertise made up for it. The sets presented to us were variable in terms of quality and quantity and required an open mind. We often didn t arrive home till gone 7 and my hat goes off to Mr Oppong who did 3 days at Dixcove arriving home at near 10 each night with his team.
If you have never experienced living in a developing country it may not be what you expect. However, I found the villa comfortable and welcoming and it added to the experience. We had air conditioning and running water though I must admit we did have a few power cuts. But who can deny the pleasure of being spoilt every evening with a freshly cooked meal and greeted with true Ghanaian hospitality and warm enquiries as to your day. I have never seen such food and the presentation, thanks to Bridget, it was often spectacular. In addition there was Lillian, Kate and Bernadette who made our stay as stress free as they could. Not only did they help with money changing but also shopping! We finished early on Friday and had an hour by a pool before a celebration meal at a local Ghanaian restaurant.
Our special treat for the weekend was a visit to the stilt village and then on to Green Turtle lodge for a night staying in huts on the beach. On the way to Accra to catch our flight we visited El Mina Fort for a sobering tour of the slave trade. The journey was broken for lunch overlooking the sea at Biriwa resort. After freshening up and a meal we left Accra
Although the system is sometimes frustrating there are many battling to try and make a change. Catching a group of children share one sweet without a second thought and the smiles and laughter brought by simply having their picture taken was a lesson in humility. This was probably the hardest week of work I have done. The days were long and we operated non stop. Also we had to contend with a different environment and were constantly challenged in one way or another – be it a loss of electricity, unfamiliar equipment and the language barrier. But the staff friendly and I had to marvel at their innovation and way they worked to minimise waste. It was physically, mentally and emotionally hard at times but would I do it again- of course!!
I would like to thank all those who supported us in various ways from donations of their time, money, equipment or clothing that made this a special trip possible for us and the people we managed to meet along the way.