Ghana - Post 2 - Public Health, Malaria and Baboons

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August 26th 2014
Published: August 26th 2014
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What a time I've been having so far, done so much in so little time and looking forward to seeing and doing loads more!

On Tuesday 12th there was no outreach work, instead Anambe taught the new volunteers how to carry out the different tasks such as the manual blood pressure checks and the hepatitis B tests.

We met at the Projects Abroad office in Patase, (about 20 minutes by tro) where we spent an hour discussing our personal reasons for choosing public health and what we thought were the main benefits to conducting community outreach work such as this.

It was agreed that just allowing people to make an informed choice about their health situation was one of the most important things we could do. According to Anambe, the majority of people in Ghana are not fully aware of their health status and many who are, have not been taught how to improve it.

This is beginning to change as TV adverts and posters are appearing, advocating a healthier lifestyle. However these messages do not reach everyone so the tests and advice given by outreach programmes can really make a difference in improving people's understanding of their own health.

Wednesday was outreach again and we returned to the same location as Monday as there had been so many people asking us to come back as they had friends and family who would definitely want to come for a check up. This soon proved to be correct as there were well over 40 people patiently waiting when we arrived.

A quick set up and we began, I started on measuring the blood pressures which is now becoming much easier, although with all the noise of Ghanaian life in the background it can prove very difficult to hear the rhythmic sounds that indicate the systolic and diastolic readings.

We were with the other public health nurse, Kate, who showed me how to do the hepatitis B tests which involve a sharp prick to the finger with a lancet followed by the resulting blood being taken onto a small test strip to which a few drops of blood buffer are added, the results work much like a pregnancy test with one line of indicator showing the test is negative and two lines showing it is positive.

It seems that most of the people who come to the outreach sessions are particularly interested in getting tested for hepatitis, and it is encouraging to see so many people taking their health seriously. Also those with high blood pressures seem genuinely concerned and are keen to receive the advice on how to reduce it. Kate says that this has only been the case in the last 5 or so years now that there is increased awareness of how important it is to stay healthy and monitor things like blood pressure.

After the outreach work was finished we headed back to the Projects Abroad (PA) office where we had a 'cultural induction' with Anthony. The other PA volunteers from in and around Kumasi soon and arrived and we began by listening to Anthony's descriptions of everything that comprises Ghanaian culture including the foods, drinks, dances, public holidays, education and traditions. This was then followed by each of the volunteers sharing some aspects of our respective cultures.

The Japanese volunteers talked mainly about food and clothes, the Dutch about their abundance of public holidays and love of cycling, the Finnish about their ice hockey, the Italian about their notorious food, drink and art and then it was my turn. Along with Louis, another British volunteer, I talked about our love of tea, fish and chips, cricket, rugby, football and bank holidays, as well as describing our tendency to grumble about the weather at every opportunity.

After this was done we headed off for a meal at 'Chopsticks' restaurant which failed miserably. The taxi driver claimed he knew where the restaurant was only to get hopelessly lost, after driving aimlessly for about 20 minutes he stopped to ask someone, seemed to know where he needed to go and set off again. We arrived at a completely different restaurant where he showed us a small sign saying that Chopsticks had now moved to another part of town. However he still felt justified in charging us the original cost plus extra for the diesel used on our 'detour'. Of course we refused which resulted in him getting very irate and claiming we had cheated him, so we promptly gave him half the original amount and hopped in another taxi to escape! Seems like some locals see white travellers as easy money and hence try to con us.

Eventually ended up eating at 'Friends Garden' instead which was pleasant enough if a little overpriced, however by this time I was feeling quite unwell. Took a taxi home after eating and got straight to bed, but I had a fever and felt exhausted.

I woke the next morning feeling worse so I rang Anthony and arranged to go the hospital later that day. After a blood text they confirmed that I had malaria, must have bitten during the weekend at Cape Coast when I was sleeping on my makeshift bed.
That certainly explained why I had been feeling so rough!

Luckily I only had a relatively mild form of malaria meaning that treatment would most likely be completely effective within 4 days. I had a jab and was prescribed 3 days worth of medication which would hopefully see off the parasites, although I would miss the weekend trip to the Volta region which I had really been looking forward to, can't win every time!

The next few days were spent resting, recovering and reading as it was important that I not over exert myself before I was better. In these 3 days I read all the books I had brought on my kindle, I'll have to download more before long.

On Monday the 18th I was well enough to return to Public Health, however there after a series of departures over the weekend there are only two volunteers currently on the project, myself and a Japanese student called Yukari, so I would have lots to do!

We were at a car repair centre which soon got busy however luckily I was mainly carrying out the hepatitis and blood sugar tests which meant I could sit down, was very grateful for that as I'm not sure if have managed 5 hours of standing in the sun!

I'm beginning to get used to the heat now, although drinking enough water is often a challenge as I don't particularly trust the unbranded water sachets sold by the roadside vendors, much safer to stick to the branded sachets and bottles, especially in light of the recent cholera outbreak in Accra which has caused chaos in the capital.

On the subject of outbreaks, the concern regarding Ebola seems to be less pronounced than I had expected, however some volunteers have requested to fly home early as a result. I don't believe it will come to Ghana any time soon so for now I'm staying put, keeping a keen eye on the news though!

At 4am on Friday I met the group of 11 other volunteers who would be making the trip to Mole National Park for the weekend. Everybody was sleep deprived and a little grouchy but when we were told that the bus to Tamale was already full, the frustration with public transport became obvious.

In contrast to the logical, efficient and relatively comfortable bus services we have in the UK, the Metro Mass Transit buses here sell more tickets than there are seats, regularly leave hours after they are meant to, and have less legroom than Ryanair, by far. One thing I look forward to doing upon returning home is using punctual transport!

We were forced to wait for the next bus which didn't leave until 7am and took 8 hours to reach Tamale however I couldn't sleep as my seat was missing half of it's back! That journey was followed by a 4 hour wait in the baking hot bus station until there was a service to Mole. This didn't arrive at the park until 11pm and we didn't eat until almost midnight. Needless to say I'm not a fan of metro mass but it's all character building, I guess.

The Mole Motel is a basic but comfortable lodge with spacious rooms, a pool and a decent restaurant (complete with incredibly slow service, of course). In and around the motel there is an abundance of baboons which are notorious for stealing anything and everything from the guests, one of our group had a baboon jump onto her lap and steal her dinner! I only just managed to hang onto a pack of biscuits after one plucky individual ran up behind me and tried to steal them!

From the motel we took a jeep safari at 7am which lasted 2 hours and let us see a good amount of wildlife. There was abundance of antelope and waterbuck as well as a small troop of monkeys, for the most part these animals were all scared away by the jeep however so we weren't able to get too close.
The highlight of the safari was definitely seeing the elephants, we pulled up and walked for about 10 minutes through the grassland to a clearing where 3 huge African elephants were grazing. The guide let us get about 20ft away from the wild animals which was amazing! The largest of the elephants soon began to come towards us, curious about the newcomers so we were promptly told to get moving by the guide, a shame as I could quite easily have spent hours watching the huge creatures!

The afternoon was spent first at the village of Larabanga close to Mole where the oldest mosque in Ghana is located. Despite Christianity being the dominant religion here, there is also a significant Muslim population.
The mosque was a squat building of mud and wooden beams, presumably not original, and we were given a guided tour of the outside by an Imam, but were not allowed inside as we were not Muslim. As interesting as the mosque was however, the locals in the village somewhat tainted the experience as within a minute of stepping off the bus there was a swarm of people following us and asking for money for 'charitable causes', claiming that our donations would go to buy equipment for their schools and sports teams, however if I had accepted each request made of me I would have given away at least £200. We had been warned beforehand not to give money to the people in this village as their claims were most likely not legitimate. Instead I gave the imam a tip for the tour and we left, a shame that more time was spent politely refusing to give money than enjoying the area.

After the mosque we returned to Mole and took a tuc-tuc to a river about 10 miles away, this soon proved to be one of the more frightening journeys I've taken in Ghana as we sped along the poorly maintained roads at close to 50 mph in a vehicle that sounded as if it were about to break in two. There were 6 of us crammed onto benches in the back with no space to move at all, definitely the most entertaining journey I've had so far!

The boat 'safari' proved completely devoid of animals however the peaceful atmosphere of the river made up for that. We rode in two long boats each with two locals rowing, I think the peace and quiet was appreciated even more after the cacophony of noise in Kumasi.

That evening we went on a night safari in a jeep. Similarly to the boat safari there was little wildlife, a few antelope and one small leopard type cat, however I'm not sure of the species.
Driving at night made up for this, with little to no clouds the view of the African night sky was amazing, more stars that it was possible to count and an incredibly bright moon, few sights can beat that!

The journey back to Kumasi was infinitely smoother than our travels on Friday, we had met another group of volunteers at the motel who we're staying in Kumasi and had rented their own bus for the weekend. Despite there not being enough seats for everyone we piled into the bus and I along with a few others ended up sitting on top of the engine cover (inside the bus!) which soon got extremely hot so I moved to the floor. However after we ate I was offered a seat so I could sleep for the rest of the journey, which I duly did. We arrived back just 7 hours after leaving, somewhat better than the 16 hours it took to get to Mole!

As I write this I'm drying out after being caught in a rain storm on my way home from public health work, within 5 minutes the streets were running red with dust laden water and I was dripping wet, at least it's warm rain!

Apologies for the length of this post but if you made it this far, thanks for reading!



26th August 2014

Simply amazing
Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience James.Some parts were hair raising. Sounds like 24 hrs are not enough . Well done.

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