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Nurses travel to Ghana as volunteers at a rural clinic

14th May 2019

During the week of International Nurses Day (12 May 2019), a blog by Barbara Kombe, Health Visitor at Evelina Children’s Hospital, on her trip to volunteer at a rural clinic in Ghana.

From left: Sarah Lartey (In uniform) – Paediatric Nurse Snow Fox, Evelina, and Barbara Kombe – Health Visitor – Evelina Community

It was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget.

I travelled to Kasoa, Ghana, in the summer of 2017 for the first time with my colleague Sarah Lartey and 5 other volunteers through a mission trip organised by a local church.

On arrival to Kasoa, we were greeted by bumpy roads, pot holes and very friendly people at Abbeam who looked after us, nourished us with local delicacies of ‘Kenke’ and Palm worms.

On our first day on site, we toured the local clinics in the surrounding villages of the region of Ngleshie Ama, where the worn facilities, lack of resources and also the long queues of patients waiting in the baking sun to see one trained nurse and two healthcare assistants was a major shock.

In the afternoon we returned to Abbeam Health centre, a new establishment built in the compound of a University – a far cry from what we had seen. Though modern built, it still lacked a lot of modern equipment like oxygen, there were no saturation monitors, no resus trolley, as we see on our wards at GSTT.

We observed the nurses and midwife deliver a baby at the back of a taxi, treat an injured man from a road traffic accident, malaria cases and circumcisions of babies. It was a full day of drama. Nothing quite prepares you for these things, but the excellent training from our jobs as nurses was the foundation from which to impart some skills and knowledge to the locals.

The staff remained jovial and worked tirelessly to see the long queues of patients in the heat of Ghana’s August weather.  All at an amazing pace of Ghanaian people, so nothing seemed rushed but patients waited patiently for their turn and paid for the services rendered without complaining. We also assisted in weighing babies and undertaking some vital signs; we met many new mothers with their babies and listened to their stories about healthcare in Ghana. Women walk for at least an hour to immunise their babies, some babies appeared malnourished due to poverty and lack of knowledge on the appropriate foods to give at weaning.

Sarah Lartey teaching on choking with a donated mannequin

On the 2nd day of our volunteering trip, a community sensitisation session was planned – Sarah and I were to deliver a 30-minute session on teaching new mothers choking, basic life support skills, health and nutrition, facilitated with one of the local nurses that works at the Abbeam health centre. Breastfeeding is promoted on media platforms and by the elders in the community, society accepts it and it was a delight to see women on public transport feeding their young ones. The unforgettable story during our visit was of how traditionally mothers have been taught to give a baby that is choking a ball of ‘kenke’ which is a hard ‘pap’. Not only is this a life-threatening practice, but showed the dire need to educate and provide evidence-based practice to parents in this remote part of Ghana. Giving back to the community with our basic knowledge was instrincally rewarding and a reminder how privileged we are in the UK. I highy recommend health practitioners for such an experience, as it also enhances humanity and the part we all play in children’s lives wherever we are.

What was also incredible was the feedback of how useful the teachings for the mothers were. Many people addressed us as ‘Madame Nurse’ which was humbling.

This volunteering experience enabled us to pledge to return and make a bigger impact. We have been able to gather resources since our return. We have set up a ‘crowdfunding campaign’ and are due to return this August 2019 with a team of 6 Nurse lecturers from Middlesex University who have decided to join us and have volunteered their time and skills to teach CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and BLS (Basic Life Support) ,as well as deliver some training to Midwives in Ghana. Global engagement is essential and a great learning opportunity for every NHS Nurse/Midwife/Health Visitor/Allied Professional and should therefore be a national interest.

Distributing some donated baby items

Armed with some mannequins and teaching AEDs (Automated External Debrifibilators), Sarah and I will be helping facilitate these sessions and also hope to be part of the team supporting  the opening of a Medical Simulation Centre,  a first in Ghana that will be a central hub  for nurses within the region to come and receive some yearly evidence-based training.

We are appealing for any decommissioned equipment, and any resources that can help the community of Kasoa, Ghana. Anyone wishing to volunteer on this mission can contact us: 07446413767/0207 635 7100

Barbara Kombe, Health Visitor at Evelina Children’s Hospital