Stouffville Doctors Part of Medical Miracle in Ghana
Mission’s team brings healing and hopes to un-serviced region of West Africa
By Bruce Stapley
Healing hands, health care supplies and hope.
That’s what a team of 58 Canadian health care workers including a Stouffville-based quartet were able to provide during a recent two week medical mission to a remote, impoverished West African area lacking in basic health care services.
Local optometrists Martin McDowell and Anthony Soluri, along with family doctor Douglas Wu and volunteer Jane Smith, provided assessments, treatment, surgical procedures and medication to people in a region in Northern Ghana that has only a handful of physicians to look after the health care needs of two and a half million people. The interdisciplinary team also included surgeons, an anesthetist, dentists, a pediatric cardiologist, an ophthalmology resident, nurses with various specialty training, a team of pharmacists and support staff. They were joined by 10 Ghanaian health professionals.
The Canadian team worked primarily in makeshift clinics set up in local churches in the villages they visited, using generators to power their equipment. Enduring 40 degree temperatures with no air conditioning, they performed 300 hernia operations, hundreds of tooth extr.actions and numerous sight saving procedures while treating endless cases of malaria and life threatening tropical diseases.
According to Dr. Wu, the challenge for he and his group was daunting but not without its bright spots. “At times the task seems insurmountable, the disease burden too great, the poverty too much, but there is hope. There are so many stories of hope from the trip.”
The group arrived well equipped with medical supplies and a well stocked pharmacy stashed in 150 hockey bags. Included were 6,000 pars of donated prescription eye glasses for patients with refractive needs, along with an ophthalmic laser device for glaucoma treatment.
It was the seventh such mission since 2007 for the Ghana Health Team, which works under the auspices of the Ghana Rural Integrated Development (GRID). GRID works in partnership with the Northern Empowerment Association (NEA), a non-governmental Christian organization dedicated to improving health care in the Northern Ghana region where the Ghana Health Team was working.
NEA was founded 33 years ago after a young Ghanaian named David Mensah, who had come to Toronto to study medicine, met Brenda Paisley while working for the summer at the Paisley farm in Stouffville. The two eventually married and went to Ghana, dedicating themselves to providing health care for that country’s poorest citizens. Dr. Mensah encountered Dr. Jennifer Wilson of Uxbridge on a return trip to the Stouffville area and told her about the lack of medical care for his people. That led to Dr. Wilson starting the Ghana Health Team.
In the aftermath of this year’s visit by the Canadians, David and Brenda Mensah were awarded the Laureates of Ghana’s Millennium Excellence Award for Peace, one of Ghana’s most prestigious awards. “They spent an evening at a black tie event with the Asantehene (Ashanti King) and many of Ghana’s dignitaries to celebrate this unbelievable achievement,” beamed Dr. Wilson.
For Dr. Wu, it was his first time back to Ghana since being part of the inaugural expedition eight years ago. Dr. McDowell marked his fourth stint as the group’s Eye Team leader. It was the first trip for Dr. Soluri, who works with Dr. McDowell at Stouffville Optometry. Dr. Wu said it was a privilege for his group to represent the NEA. “Nothing the NEA does is without the goal of sustainability and health care is no exception,” he noted. “There is a long term vision here.”
According to Dr. McDowell, the treatment given the group by their Ghanaian hosts was gratifying. They were greeted with ceremonial music and dance and every village they visited offered gifts to the team. “Ghanaians are a most hospitable people,” he said. “The health team’s notoriety has extended to a national level and the President of Ghana presented the team with a bull as an expression of thanks.”
While team members were faced with unending line-ups of people seeking medical care, memories of individual success stories endured. Dr. Soluri recalled a very sick three year old child with a serious eyelid infection that could have been life threatening. By working together the team was able to diagnose and treat the issues. “It was a great demonstration of the good work that can be done with a multidisciplinary team working to achieve a common goal.” He said he was pleased to be able to contribute to the innate happy nature of the Ghanaian people, as well as their sense of community. “When the basics necessities are met for these people they are able to keep a smile on their face. Maybe less is more when it comes to being happy.”
Dr. McDowell concluded that his experience in Ghana has made him more appreciative of how much we have in Canada. “I’m grateful for the rich life I have been given.”