The Mafi-Seva clinic where I am volunteering is in Ghana’s Southern Volta region, somewhere between Accra (the capital of Ghana) and the Togo boarder. We are nestled into the savannah, among small villages of mud thatch dwellings, cassava fields, maize patches and mango, papaya and balboa trees. The people are hard working farmers, many of them Christians. Dusty half-naked children play outside amid the roaming animals. Public buildings and churches have electricity, homes do not. The language is Eway. Everyone in the area has enough food and thanks to “The Water Project” has access to clean water. The climate is hot and humid. The pace of life is slow, but dreamy.
Erected in 2003, the clinic is a side bar development to “The Water Project” (which started in 1987- I will better describe “The Water Project” in posts to come- it truly is a fascinating story). Both projects are run by the NGO, AMURT International. The goal of the clinic is to provide free or very low cost health and maternity care, as well as outreach services and health education to the community of over 40 villages.
The clinic is staffed by 4 nurse apprentices, 2 Traditional birth attendants (TBAs) and a Homeopath. Over the years, the clinic has hosted volunteers from all over the world including doctors, nurses, midwives, nutritionists, doulas, anthropologists and public health educators and students of various health care fields.
Volunteers come to the clinic to conduct public outreach and educate the staff. Past volunteer projects have included an initiative to address GI worms and parasites. Chloe, a Nurse from Canada, in conjunction with the clinic staff wrote, translated and played songs with her ukulele. Her message was the importance of “washing your hands before you eat”. These songs are still sung in schools today. Another initiative was to address proper wound care, as some people are still putting hot stones onto wounds. Ai, a nurse from Japan visited communities to discuss safe wound care. Ana, a midwife from Spain taught the staff how to better identify labour and birth complications in order to transport to hospital in a timely fashion.
At this time, the clinic sees 1-20 patients a day and has up to 11 births a month. The facilities continue to grow and evolve, at this time the clinic is equipped with supplies for treating non-emergency illnesses, bacterial infections, dehydration, minor injuries, wounds and malaria. The clinic has maternity room equipped with birth supplies, as well as a lab facility for testing basic blood work, malaria and HIV.
So what I am doing here? I came with no set plan. I hoped to attend a few births…and from there assess where my skills could be used. My first week here, I was the only volunteer. I was very lucky and was chaperoned (by Emperor on his motorbike- very cool) around the area to meet the village leaders, Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) and Emperor’s enormous family. Over the week and miles we travelled, I naturally gravitated to exploring issues concerning woman of childbearing years.
I learned that anemia is a major issue for the pregnant woman in the community. In many woman iron and hemoglobin levels are half of what is considered normal. Some of the complications of low iron are decreased immunity, increased fatigue and increased risk of post partum hemorrhage.
Anemia is so common, that upon a woman’s first antenatal visit (done at a hospital) she is given iron supplements. However, it is rarely explained why they are taking the pills. Many of the women are illiterate and have basic nutrition education.
Challenge 1: How can I help address anemia in rural Western Ghana?
Answer 1: Find out what people eat on a daily basis and assess what women know about nutrition. Follow up on what has been taught through the clinic already.
Challenge 2: What foods in the Ghanaian diet are iron rich and promote iron absorption? Find a traditional healer and find out the iron rich medicinal foods and plants in the area and their preparations.
Answer 2: There are SO many- DOCUMENT them!
Challenge 3: Create a nutrition education program
Answer 3: STAY TUNED