Opinions Wed, 8 May 2013

A Call To Healthcare Volunteering in Ghana

By Ato Aidoo

An act to volunteer does not represent just mere work since workers can offer the best at their jobs based on a reward system, in the same way planners and decision-makers could be good at their jobs, but sometimes fail to execute laudable ideas. Volunteers work differently. Fundamentally, volunteers combine their intent to help. They are well rounded, and operate effectively as specialized workers, executioners, planners, initiators, and more importantly as leaders.

In reality, volunteers work without any personal desire to benefit from the process. In essence, they work to benefit society, not themselves. For these reasons, volunteers can be categorized as self-sacrificing individuals, executioners and leaders par excellence. Volunteerism connotes a “dialogue” with the inner self that urges an individual to be attached to the values of selflessness. It extinguishes one’s ego so that others will benefit, a gallant action that synchronizes with caring, sharing, and dedication to humanity. Working in line with this philosophy is the International Healthcare Volunteers (IHCV), which was established in the United States in 2001 to provide healthcare to adults and children in underserved communities, and to fill the gap in saving patients in developing countries. The IHCV concept underscores a commitment to save people who could die from simple medical problems for lack of access to medical resources. Ghana has benefited extensively from IHCV. Funded entirely by Dr. James Kobina Aikins, a Ghanaian gynecologic oncologist, Cooper University Hospital, and adjunct associate professor of OB/GYN, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Jersey, International Healthcare Volunteers extend medical assistance to Ghana in the area of cervical/colon cancer screening, and training of surgeons in minimal invasive surgery.

Dr. Aikins says, “Our unique and successful medical mission strategy has been to provide safe medical and surgery care to people around the world, and to build sustainable long-term solutions. This, we accomplish by mobilizing medical professionals across the United States to treat families in need of basic health care in many countries, including Ghana, and we are proud of the legacy we leave behind by training medical personnel, donating surgical equipment, and cementing a professional partnership that eventually helps the vulnerable”.

For the past 11 years, Ghana has benefited from a typical mission made up of 30 medical professionals (anesthesiologists, anesthetists, nurses, pediatricians, internist, gastroenterologists, gynecology oncologists, urogynecologists, general surgeons, psychologists, students, and community volunteers from the United States. The mission ensures that over 1,200 families receive free medical evaluations, during which more than 70 people are surgically treated. International Healthcare Volunteers provide medical education in the areas of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and emergency medical management for the Central Regional Hospital in Cape-Coast. In Kumasi, there has been a collaborative training on minimal invasive surgical techniques (Laparoscopic Surgeries).

The volunteers continue to work with institutions in medical training, and offer mentorship for Ghanaian midwives, and physicians. In another “win-win agreement”, the International Healthcare Volunteers provide elective for Robert Wood Johnson, and Cooper Medical School students and resident physicians, as a means to exchanging knowledge with their counterparts at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Ghana.

For its 10th medical mission to Ghana, volunteers attended to approximately 850 patients, and performed 93 major surgeries in Apam, Cape-Coast, Kumasi, and Mampong. In addition to its 2006 feat for performing the first Laparoscopic Ovarian Cystic Mass Removal in Cape-Coast Regional Hospital, another milestone was recorded at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology Hospital in Kumasi, where the first Laparoscopic Gall Bladder Removal was performed in 2011.

Sarah Lachman, who graduated from Temple University, recounted her experience in Ghana, lauding the tremendous work and experience of a lifetime in many communities, adding “I am proud to have been part of this group and hope to go to Ghana again on a medical mission”. Kukuwa Midley, another volunteer, said “traveling to Ghana with health care volunteers was an exciting and enriching experience, it offered me the opportunity to learn from nurses, physicians and patients at the Apam Catholic Hospital, and I am grateful”.

Healthcare volunteerism provides an outlet for Ghanaian healthcare professionals and volunteers to serve people in need. People from different countries have on many occasions devoted their time and energy to help Ghana. And it is only proper Ghanaian healthcare professionals in North America show interest in this noble project by volunteering once a year.

It was former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, who once said “there are some people who have not done anything for humanity except themselves, why not volunteer so that you are not detached from humanity”. Clinton’s admonition still serves as a reminder, that doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other allied healthcare can seize the opportunity to be counted as part of the effort to save lives, especially in Ghana and other developing countries.

To Dr. Aikins and people who have so far volunteered, this generous mission to extend assistance to Ghana has been impeccably observed, a selfless adventure that would be ingrained in the minds of families around the world. To sustain this effort demands that professionals volunteer, not only to help others, but to share personal experience and skills to a world craving for better healthcare delivery.

“Once we help others, we are also helping ourselves”, Dr. Aikins explains.

Columnist: Aidoo, Ato