Sarah Lownsbrough - Medicine & Healthcare in Ghana
When I finally got on the aeroplane at London Heathrow I couldn't believe that I was actually starting the big adventure I had been planning for almost 2 years! Having chosen to pursue a career in Medicine I decided that the Medicine placement Projects Abroad were advertising in Ghana would give me the perfect opportunity to get a real insight into the field in which I would be studying.and that it did along with so much more!
When I arrived in Ghana the first thing that hit me was the heat - having left England in freezing temperatures it came as quite a shock when I got off the plane to be faced with a temperature of 28ºC at 10.30 at night! My placement and accommodation however was based in the Akuapem Hills which is about 1¼ hours drive North from the centre of Accra and 400m above sea level - consequently the temperatures there were slightly lower and more to my liking!
As well as the heat there were so many things to get used to when I first arrived in Ghana and it did take a week or so for me to settle in properly. I still vividly remember my first journey up to the Hills from Accra with two other new volunteers in a line-taxi and there were so many things to take in that silence prevailed amongst us for most of the way! Once out of the busy streets of Accra where there would be sellers approaching you in the car at every junction of traffic lights with items such as plantain chips, sachets of pure water and hankies, the scenery was really beautiful and a lot greener than I had imagined it.
I was perhaps a little overwhelmed at first but the excitement of what was to come soon took over. When my friendly host welcomed me with a big smile it was obvious she had been looking forward to our arrival (I stayed and shared a room with another volunteer) and I soon felt at home.
My placement at Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital in Mampong was so fulfilling, I only wished I could have stayed on for longer. Throughout the 10 weeks I was there I got to see so many things - the work was quite flexible so there was a chance to see most of the different departments including the Surgical, Maternity, Medical and Paediatric Wards, Outpatients Department, Pharmacy, Physio and the Laboratories. My favourite department had to be Maternity where I got to observe natural births (something I had never experienced before!), bath and weigh new born babies, carry out physical examinations under the supervision of a doctor, assist the nurses with patient care on the ward including the recording of vitals such as blood pressure and temperature, and attend antenatal classes where I got to give tetanus injections and listen to the heartbeat of a foetus! I also thoroughly enjoyed being in theatre most Wednesdays when there would be planned operations such as Hysterectomies, Hernia repairs and sometimes Caesarean sections. I thought I would be a little squeamish but I really wasn't and found it so interesting and fascinating to be so close to live operations!
Some of the cases on the Medical ward were quite shocking and saddening. I witnessed a couple of severe cases of HIV/AIDS, malaria and malnutrition and soon came to appreciate more of the healthcare offered to us in the UK. I think my experience at Tetteh Quarshie has definitely given me an edge to other undergraduate medics and I have certainly become even more enthused and committed to becoming a doctor!
The remainder of my 3 months in Ghana (as well as at weekends) was spent making the most of where I was and exploring as much as possible. I made trips with other volunteers to the Volta Region visiting Wli Falls and the Monkey Sanctuary at Tafi Atome. We also did a tour of the Akosombo Dam which is the source of electrical power for Ghana and other surrounding countries - it is huge!
Kakum National Park was also a fantastic weekend trip we made where we slept out on platforms in the rainforest and walked the tree-tops on the famous canopy walkway. On Easter weekend we went to Church with the family - most Ghanaians being very dedicated Christians. It was certainly very lively experience as you can see in the picture!
We had made so much of our spare time at the weekends that we had already seen a lot of Ghana by the time it came to our 2 weeks travelling at the end of our placements. So, myself and a couple of volunteers decided to brave it and travel all the way to Timbuktu in Mali by road! It was definitely worth it though, the highlight for me being riding on camels out into the desert from Timbuktu and then sleeping out in the dunes under the stars - it was really out of this world and very difficult to describe exactly what it was like in words!
Being busy bees that we were, I got a lot more than I had bargained for out of my trip to Ghana and enjoyed every minute of it. Projects Abroad were also amazingly supportive the whole way through and contributed significantly to an experience I will never forget!