Written and submitted by Lisa Bowers, RN
Last October, I had the opportunity to organize and participate in a medical
mission trip to Ghana, Africa. I have been a nurse for over 33 years and
have worked the past 13 years in the Cardiovascular Holding Unit at WMC.
Wendy Burns, NP, another Valley Health employee, also joined our team
of NPs and RNs from across the country.
The nursing organization, Show Me Your Stethoscope, sponsored this trip
to the Volta region of Ghana where there is little or no access to medical
care. We set up clinics in 4 different villages, and saw over 800 people
over 5 days. The Ghana Health service provided interpreters, pharmacy
personnel, and a nurse or NP to assist us. The biggest complaint of all
was “waist pain” which we learned was low back pain and headaches.
After seeing how everyone carries loads on their heads and bends over
to cook and work, it made sense. The most prevalent disease we treated
and the number one cause of death in this area is malaria. We tested anyone
who complained of headache, vomiting, diarrhea, fever or chills, and treated
around 80 people who were positive for the disease. A few were obviously
end-stage and close to death when we saw them, which is tragic since testing
for malaria costs $1 and treatment costs $5 per person. Sadly, getting
treatment is challenging for most since hospitals are too far away for
most people to get to.
We also treated a lot of respiratory infections, skin infections and an
assortment of burn wounds. High blood pressure (it was common to see BP’s
as high as 200/100 or greater!), STDs, strokes, and malnutrition were
rampant. We also saw cases of probable AIDS, but we had no testing kits
to confirm a diagnosis.
Wendy and I made several home visits, which meant so much to our patients
even though there was very little we could do for them. We visited a lady
with end-stage throat cancer. Cancer is virtually untreated in this region
as there are no cancer treatment centers except in big city hospitals.
We saw two who had had paralyzing strokes. The one lady asked us if we
had a pill that would make her walk again. Another elderly lady was blind
and confined to her bedroom which consisted of a cinder block room with
a mattress on the floor. It was heartbreaking, and although we felt so
inadequate in not being able to help everyone, we know we made a big difference to some.
The people were gracious, accommodating and generally a lot of fun to be
around. We made lasting friends with the health care workers there. It
is something I definitely will do again!