In June 2012 I took the decision to leave the NHS after 25 years of service, latterly as a specialist podiatrist in long term conditions. This gave me the opportunity to fulfil an ambition of travelling to a developing country as a volunteer utilising and sharing the skills and knowledge I had gained over the years in the profession.
By chance, a serendipitous phone call alerted me to a project in Ghana. Ralf Jeutter, a newly qualified podiatrist and experienced homeopath, and Claire Duguid a podiatry lecturer from the University of East London, were heading to Accra and Mafi Seva, Ghana in July 2012. Both were to focus on diabetes and wound care from an educational and practical perspective. The organising GHP team work in partnership to develop Ghanaian homeopathy through low cost clinics, education and training. And more so, the Ghanaian Department of Health have identified a need for education in orthodox medicine throughout the traditional and alternative medicine practice. This seemed an ideal development to become involved in, especially as I am the podiatry members’ representative for the Faculty of Homoeopathy and have an interest in that area.
Preparations began. Fundraising was a big part of the mission, and so spreading the word to many people was a way of initiating this. During this process a podiatry colleague requested to join me and so, Sobia Mansoor a specialist podiatrist in long-term conditions joined the cause. A Just Giving donation web page was developed which not only raised funds for the charity, but also mapped the growth of the planned visit with images and messages, the latter maintaining morale when complications arose. These included day trips to London to obtain visas, underestimated costs and time involved following a visit to the travel clinic for vaccinations and malarial prophylaxis, and donations of dressings. Fortunately, all obstacles were overcome.
The podiatry profession does not formally exist in Ghana, however diabetes diagnosis is on the increase and the people suffer the consequences of a lack of knowledge on how to manage the condition. Hence, subsequent wound care is often neglected within the official health system and the individual is left to seek help from private traditional and alternative medicine practitioners. Sobia and I were to continue the education that Ralf and Claire had initiated within diabetes and wound care.
[singlepic id=123 w=320 h=240 float=left]Our first part of the trip was based at the community health centre in Mafi Seva under the direction of Emperor, a homoeopath and local leader. Here the dedicated team of staff, who work around the clock to offer a rural point of contact for all health needs, made us feel very welcome. We were exposed to conditions rarely seen in UK podiatry practice, such as snakebites, wounds from machetes, and malaria. The ulcerations were severe and the patients had often been discharged from the official health system without much explanation or follow-up. To help, we were able to offer half of the dressing donations to the clinic and training in basic hand hygiene and wound care. Plus, I was able to suggest the use of some remedies which may hasten wound healing. In return, the integrated team taught us skills of working with interpreters and dealing with medical issues when there is no medic available. The result of this meant we were largely incorporated into rural Ghanaian life, and benefited from cultural visits to local churches, villages, and the water project.
The second part of our trip took us back to the capital of Ghana and to the Premier International School of Homeopathy and Alternative Medicine (PISHAM). Under the guidance of the principle Julius Berdie, pharmacist and homeopath, the students were keen to hear about diabetes and wound care. Through Sobia and my demonstrations on hand hygiene, wound care, and vascular and neurological assessments, the students were able to partake in practical learning. Power point and white board presentation aided the teaching methodology. The other half of the donated dressings were utilised on patients who attended the teaching clinic, and again severe chronic cases were seen. A feedback form from the students of PISHAM indicated the majority found the sessions useful, especially the different techniques used in patient care. They all requested more information and showed unwavering enthusiasm for the subject area. It was hard to leave this eagerness and they expressed a strong desire for us to return soon.
Upon reflection, the trip was hard at times both physically and emotionally. The challenges of no clean running water, and very often no electricity, were overcome. However, so much more can be done to continue to help these areas of low resources. I believe the longest lasting gift that can be given is education. I learned that spirituality and the belief in traditional methods is strong and our orthodox approach is sometimes shocking for them to hear and understand. For example, when I stated in church that diabetes was incurable, there was a sharp intake of breath from the congregation. By integrating orthodox methods into traditional and alternative methods and vice versa, a suitable outcome can be gained for all parties. I appreciate the need for this to continue so I look forward to reading the report from the next volunteers.