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Diasporian News Mon, 3 Jan 2005

North Iowan works at eye clinic in Ghana

MASON CITY ? A few years ago Dr. Mick Vanden Bosch, 41, an ophthalmologist at the North Iowa Eye Clinic, came across the personal statement he had to write to get into medical school.

It said he wanted to become a medical missionary some day. He decided to look for a way to fulfill his old dream.

This year he was invited to spend a week in Ghana and work at an eye clinic operated by the Luke Society, an organization of Christian health and business professionals dedicated to medical missions.

At first Vanden Bosch hesitated to go on the trip, which was set for early December.

"But once I got there I loved it," he said.

Vanden Bosch visited a village where the Luke Society has a hospital before going to the eye clinic in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Anywhere from 140 to 160 people come to the clinic each day, some for examinations and other for eye surgery.

All examinations took place in a large room where several patients were seen at once.

"The patients didn't mind that," Vanden Bosch said. "They were just happy to get good eye care."

People came from hundreds of miles ? even from neighboring countries ? to visit the clinic.

Some people would arrive at the clinic at 3 or 4 a.m. even though it didn't open until 8 a.m. to make sure they got in. Patients had to arrive by noon to be seen that day.

Some had fairly routine problems, such as dry or itchy eyes, but others had cataracts or glaucoma. One patient with cataracts in both eyes was only 13 years old.

Vanden Bosch said the fact Ghana is so close to the equator might have something to do with the prevalence of cataracts, but "nutrition is probably a significant factor."

The staff started each day with a worship service. A separate service was held for the patients.

About 75 percent of the people in Ghana are Christians, 15 percent are Muslim and the rest practice animism, fetish worship or ancestral worship. But Vanden Bosch said non-Christians weren't treated any differently at the clinic.

Examinations and services at the clinic weren't free, but the fees were reasonable, he said. Vanden Bosch said if the doctors charged nothing, the patients wouldn't believe the care was any good.

He was told the clinic was in a "good part" of the city of 3 million people, but many in the neighborhood lived in little huts, he said.

About half the people in Ghana wear Western clothes such as jeans and T-shirts, while the rest wear brightly- colored traditional African garb.

"No matter where we were in Ghana, they were smiling and friendly and glad to see us," Vanden Bosch said.

English is the official language and most people speak it well enough that Vanden Bosch could talk to them without an interpreter.

Vanden Bosch wants to continue going to Ghana to help at the clinic. "I feel like I have friends there now," he said.

Reach Mary Pieper at 421-0578 or mary.pieper@globegazette.com.

Source: MARY PIEPER, Of The Globe Gazette