Hey everyone. Being in avid pursuit of a career in the medical profession, I have been particularly aware of the situation here. There are so many jumbled thoughts and experiences that I’ve had a hard time coordinating them into something coherent, but here it is, the first part of a series I want to do about what I’ve seen in Karaga town.
There’s an advertisement for early pregnancy HIV detection on the radio. Get checked early to protect your bundle of joy from HIV.
There’s apparently 34,000 patients for every doctor in Ghana. This is a national average, meaning that the ratio is likely far higher in the rural areas in which I’m working in the Northern Region.
Common knowledge says that guinea worm is eradicated in Ghana.
Each person likely loses about a month each year of effective working time because they are sick or recovering from malaria.
Mr. Abanga’s mother gave birth to over ten children, he is one of the four survivors. In his words, “this is the toll that disease takes”.
“Malnutrition is not a disease. It is a predisposition to disease.” Malnutrition is a spectre that haunts many households, in children as well as adults. By eating a nearly all-carb diet, getting essential nutrients just doesn’t happen. Animal protein is considered a waste to feed to children, and besides, animals are status symbols only when kept alive.
I’m stressed and anxious because the internet is slow here, and it takes ages to enter information into the online applications for Medicine at UBC, UofC, and the Ontario schools. They are clearly not designed for areas with low internet access.
I let out that I am accident prone, and Marc-André told me about 30 times where in Karaga town the polyclinic is. It’s around a 45 min bike ride to the clinic from his village, and he’s not the furthest out.
I sit with my family in Nangong-ayili, and listen to the various phlegmy coughs by the children. Zuéda has been sick for about a week now. Both Fatimata, and three of the other small children are also sick with the same thing. Yesterday was brutally exhausting for me with the stuffed sinuses, headache, and exhaustion, but my immune system turned around and stomped on whatever is rampaging through my family.
Whenever I feel tired, my family, colleagues, and friends, have asked me if I have taken medicine. Because medicine can fix everything, regardless of the drug and dosage. Medicine here is used and abused, worshipped and summarily completely disrespected. Whether it is local or synthetic.
At the polyclinic I have to give a fecal sample for some parasite tests. I ask where the washroom is, and the lab tech points me towards the bush. Open defecation is really the only option at the medical clinic???
People ask me if the medicine they are taking is correct. By reading the sometimes-present package, I can explain what the English means, but I always tell them that I am not a doctor.
The students I am living with told me that moringa tree tea can cure malaria, and so that’s what they rely on both as occasional prophylaxis and treatment.
For a headache, Chairman offers me a choice of two different drugs, and tells me to take two of one and one of the other. I tell him, no, I won’t, but I recognize the names as painkillers so I don’t attempt to tell him not to take them himself.
Health insurance costs about 12 GHC ($8 CDN) and a trip to the district assembly, a big building just outside town, to take your photo. No one in my household, save the students from out of town, has this insurance, despite the fact that babies and small children get free insurance if their mother is enrolled.
I received an email offering me an interview at UBC medicine, and I try to explain to my friend Gani why going to this school is so important to me, despite the fact that he has dropped out of school. My student friends are ecstatic for me, and I think they can empathise with the ridiculous competition, for even to gain access to high school or a training college after high school gives similar odds to Canadian med schools.
Medicine is overprescribed and misprescribed, and left unexplained, even when asked for. For my positive malaria test, I received three packets, and the instructions on how to take each medicine (twice a day, once per day, three times per day). No explanation whatsoever of which drugs did what, and through some basic internet searching and consultation with colleagues, I divined the malaria drug (good), a drug to lower fevers and relieve pain (neither of which I had, which I clearly explained to the doctor), and multivitamins, which were unmarked and unlabeled. Needless to say, I only took the first of the three, and have felt in good health since, albeit with lower confidence in my local health authority.
Can you imagine how your life changes when your major worries for your child include HIV infection, when sick leave doesn’t exist yet you’re bedridden with malaria, and when access to quality clinics, professionals, and medicines is minimal?