Today was a busy but fascinating first day. This morning we were picked up by Patrick and Sheila from Care Net Ghana. First stop: Akatsi District, in the Southern part of the Volta Region.
The Volta Region used to be a part of Togo. Since it became Ghanaian land, the region has been somewhat neglected and currently has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the country. Akatsi District in particular has very high rates, which is why Care Net decided to start their maternal & child health program there. The program is fascinating; it’s run by two Program Coordinators who train Community Birthing Attendants (TBAs). The TBAs are from the communities, and they’re people who are already helping women in the community give birth because they cannot access a hospital. Care Net trains them to recognize the signs and symptoms of various childbirth complications, and provides them with a phone and connection to professional midwives across Ghana.
Why, you might ask yourself, do women not have access to a hospital in one of the most developed and westernized countries on the African continent? Good question; I’ve been asking myself the same one all day. Within the Akatsi District, there are almost 200,000 people, and there is one doctor. And he’s a pediatrician. What is causing this? While I’m not expert, I’ve made some assumptions based on conversations with Patrick.
First, infrastructure is simply difficult. Some of the roads have pot holes the size of Lake Michigan and few people bother to travel on them. Second, brain drain. There are so many Ghanaians studying medicine all over the world, but how many do you think return to places like the Akatsi District? Lastly, I think foreign aid perpetuates the problem a bit, in a complex way. Because so many western NGOs and foundations are contributing to public health projects in Ghana, the government neglects to focus on it. Therefore, the strategy is not standardized, there is no incentive for medical students to practice in rural districts, and individuals don’t understand their rights when it comes to health care.
Care Net is changing all of that. They are engaging Ghana Health Services (GHS) in a very strategic, thoughtful way; they are building a collaborative network where funders not only fund projects, but provide technical training and–most importantly–are part of a continuous learning process with Care Net and GHS. I believe deeply in the work that I saw today, and I hope to be able to support it in greater ways going forward.
For those who would like to do the same, there are a couple basic things that the TBAs need more of: 1. surgical gloves (would you want to give birth without them?), 2. surgical blades, and 3. soap. These are things every American hospital and medical supply company has in abundance. If you’re connected to either of those and have an interest in contributing, let us know. We promise your contribution will go a LONG way under Care Net’s watch.
Tomorrow we’ll be learning more about Care Net in the morning, and then we’re off to Togo! Lots of love from our king size bed at the Galaxy Lodge!
Alyssa & Sarah