17-27 MAY 2008
Our mission in Ghana was a success. It was over our expectation, especially due to the feeling that local people were really grateful for our presence in Ghana, trying to help them.
All this started a year ago when we decided to create a group of Spanish surgeons to participate in this project. At the beginning it was not so easy, but finally 18 people decided to be part of the group: 8 general surgeons, 1 paediatric surgeons, 4 anaesthesiologist, 4 nurses and 1 general doctor. We were very impressed with how the group was motivated by the project, even when everyone paid the cost of their trips and of their accommodations from their own pockets and how those days were part of their official holidays in their hospitals. But everything was done generously in order to get one goal: to try to help people.
Out of the 18 persons, 16 were from Sevilla, 1 from Barcelona and 1 from Ourense. Most of us did not have experience in humanitarian missions, so we were a little afraid of how things were going to work out. Once we got all the official documents ready, thanks to our hospitals, the Spanish Association of Surgeons, C Oppong, A Kingsnorth and B Dixon, we started looking for some financial support to the mission: Atlanta-Unicongress supported us by reducing the prices of our flight tickets, and different companies (especially Dipro, Covidien, J and J) and our hospitals (University Hospital Virgen del Rocio, University Hospital Virgen Macarena, USP-Clínica Sagrado Corazón, Hospital de Río Tinto and Hospital Infanta Elena) supported us by supplying meshes and sutures: 15 boxes of 15 kg each with surgical equipments and anaesthetics drugs were taken to Ghana. On the other hand, our baggages were full of toys and school materials.
At arrival (Saturday 17th), everything was organized, a bus took us to Takoradi and next morning we went to Green Turtle beach, a paradise, a nice beach full of palm trees to relax the day before we started working. The local culture is so different, Barbara, one of the local girls who looked after us during the week, told me she did not understand why Europeans like the beach so much and to lie down under the sun. We were impressed by the local people, the way of thinking, the colours, the smile in the face of the children, the nature and the way of living. It is a poor country, but we did not see people starving, it seems they work very hard to guarantee their own meal, and none of them asked us for money. We have good feelings after the first day, the people were happy to have us there, we felt safe and the environment was very friendly.
The next 5 days, we worked very hard in 3 hospitals: Takoradi hospital, GPHA hospital, and the regional hospital at Cape Coast. We worked for almost 12 hours a day in each of the 5 operation theatres which we covered in the 3 hospitals. We have performed the largest hernias we have ever seen in adult people and in children; we have also performed cases after multiple surgeries in their groin, multirrecurrent hernias which were very difficult problems to be solve. Very difficult cases, being exhausted by the end of the day, but we were all very happy, very satisfied, since you can see in the face of all our patients they were very grateful to us. The environment in the operating theatres was very friendly with local nurses, they were very professional and they made things easier. By the end of the five days, 146 hernias in 130 patients were performed, including 6 children (the youngest was 4 months old). During our stay we also had the opportunity to teach the local surgeons, I would call them better the local heroes (Dr Frank was in charge with one colleague of Takoradi hospital with 40 beds, he had to visit the patients, to do ultrasounds, to perform caesareans, emergency surgery, I would say he has to cover all the specialties) how to perform a large umbilical hernia and a large incisional hernia. On the other hand, we were the first group with anaesthesiologists, which was very helpful for the local nurse, especially regarding spinal anaesthesia. One of the anaesthesiologists of our group had also the opportunity to give a lecture on local anaesthetics and spinal anaesthesia.
The evenings were very interesting, getting to know downtown Takarodi and Cape Coast is a unique experience and, although we were exhausted, there was always sometimes to seat the group together around a table with the local beer and share our experience. Brian Dixon also took us to visit a little village, to get to know another aspect of the real Ghana. You can see how they live, how their houses are made, how the produce the palm oil, and how happy the people are with our presence. We also had the chance to go to visit the bishop of the western region of Ghana to give him all the toys and the school material we took with us, to guarantee that all was handed to the people who needed them most.
Being a large group is a real problem for the local organizers, but the effort of Brian Dixon (and the company he works for, CNR), Bernard Boateng-Duah and Michael was very important to organize everything. They took care of every single detail to make us feel comfortable, to advise us about the local cultural aspects. We want to thank all of them and especially the enormous effort of Brian Dixon for being present everyday to make sure that everything was well organized. The four girls who looked after us in the government villa were very important to us to make us feel like at home. They were always smiling and making are stay so easy. They prepared local food for the whole group every single day, they looked after us and they even prepared on the last day a cake with the flag of Sevilla, which they found it in internet. We all want to thanks to Grace, Kate, Barbara and Lillian.
The last day, on our way to the airport we had the chance to visit Kakum National Park and Elmina Castle. Impressive places you should not miss when you visit Ghana.
Long trip and back home, but you can see in the face of the people of the group how satisfied they were. We were a nice group of friends that we enjoyed very much trying to help people. It was worthy to be part of this project, especially if we solve a problem to 130 patients, and we made children happier for a moment with the toys and school material which the local people enjoyed with us,.
We are happy to have the chance to have this experience and we think next year the whole group will be back, and after sharing our experience with the people of our hospitals maybe we have to create more than one Spanish group.
Coordinator of the Spanish group