By Starla Pointer Of the News-Register:
As part of the new ” GhanaHope” relationship between McMinnville health care providers and their counterparts in Africa, a Ghanian doctor made his first visit to Oregon this week. Dr. Fredrick Duah spent seven days visiting Willamette Valley Medical Center and other local medical clinics and sampling what McMinnville and Yamhill County have to offer.
He said he was overwhelmed by the friendliness of everyone he met, in addition to being impressed by the methods and technology used by U.S. health professionals. Duah was hosted by the GhanaHope Foundation’s founders, Dr. John Neeld, a local obstetrician and gynecologist; nurse practitioner Nancy Manley and Rosemari Davis, retired hospital CEO. The McMinnville residents had met him during several trips to Ghana, where they established the sister hospital relationship with a government facility in New Abirem, a small town and capital of the Birim North district in east Ghana.
GhanaHope’s purpose is to encourage exchanges of personnel and knowledge between the two countries and to provide equipment, supplies and training to the hospital in New Abirem and other villages.
To support those goals, GhanaHope Foundation is raising money through fundraisers, including the McMinnville Brews and BBQs event that will take place Sept. 7-9 in McMinnville’s Granary District. Proceeds will help provide materials critically needed there, yet considered commonplace here, Davis said.
She, Neeld and Manley took suitcases stuffed with stethoscopes, thermometers and other small items with them when they’ve visited, and are working on arranging for the Ghanian hospitals to have plentiful supplies of birth control drugs, penicillin and other basics. “We’ve been amazed they do so much with what they have,” said Davis, who retun to Ghana in October with a local plastic surgeon. “They’re making wonderful progress, but there’s a long way to go.”
This was Duah’s first visit to the U.S. Duah , 47, has been a doctor since 1998. “I grew up in a rural area … an area that didn’t have easy access to medical treatment. A lot of people died of illness there,” he said. “As I grew, I realized so many of the deaths were preventable. “I wanted to help, so I became a doctor,” he said. He went to medical school in Leningrad. Coincidentally, when he visited WVMC, he met another Russian-trained physician, Dr. Vishal Bhatia, who is originally from India. The two men were in different Russian medical schools at the same time. In addition to being a medical doctor, Duah has a master’s degree in public health and has studied hospital administration. He currently is the only physician in an area with about 98,000 people. In the future, however, he hopes to work part-time in patient care and part-time in the prevention sector of public health. He said prevention is a critical need in Ghana. The people need to be educated about the dangers of and ways to avoid contracting malaria, TB and HIV. And they need better sanitation, particularly more access to clean water. Safe water and mosquito netting will go a long way toward preventing many deaths, he said. —— So will teaching people the importance of following through with care. For instance, TB is highly treatable with shots followed by medication. But many people who receive the shots don’t bother to take the pills afterwards, he said. To fight the laissez-faire attitude about TB treatment, Duah and other Ghanian health professionals are involved in a “DOT” project, or “direct observation therapy.” Basically, they make sure, in person, that patients take their pills. As a result, “the rate of TB infection is really going down,” he said. And making medical care more accessible is critical, he said. Many Ghanians have difficulty reaching hospital. The government, which runs medical services in Ghana, is establishing numerous clinics in villages so people don’t have to travel far to find care. But it’s still not enough, he said. He sees the need daily, since the hospital where he is based serves people on both sides of a major river. There is no bridge, only a ferry. But the ferry may not be running at the time critical care is needed — when a woman goes into labor, for instance.
In addition to preventing and treating illnesses, Duah is concerned with maternal and child health in Ghana. He sees a need for education about birth control and child care, as well as for better prenatal care. He said Ghana’s health system is focused on reducing maternal mortality. Prenatal care is now free to pregnant women. But while there have been vast improvements in recent years, the country still sees about 355 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. “There should be zero,” he said.
During his visit to McMinnville, Duah visited Neeld’s OB/GYN practice, WVMC’s birthing center and other areas of the hospital, like the emergency room, surgery suites, radiation department and patient care areas. He said the private rooms here are the size of rooms that would hold at least four patients in Ghana. And everything a physician needs is readily available, from X-rays to lab test equipment to the latest high-tech surgical procedures. Duah said he would love to have access to endoscopic surgery, which uses a smaller incision and is much less traumatic for patients than standard, more extensive surgery. He also said he was interested in how extensively U.S. health care providers document patient care. He wants to emulate that, realizing how helpful it will be to have in-depth information about patient history and previous care. He plans to start asking patients if they have any questions for him — a standard procedure here. “I think it’s brilliant,” he said. He said his patients will be surprised, but very pleased to be asked to play an active role in their own care.
In addition to observing U.S. doctors and medical facilities, Duah visited the beach during his week in Oregon. With Davis, he attended Kiwanis and Rotary club meetings, and the Rotary’s Uncorked fundraiser. He spent time at the McMinnville Farmers Market, Turkey Rama and wineries in Carlton. He met Sheriff Jack Crabtree and toured the Yamhill County Jail. Davis also showed him sights on Third Street and other parts of downtown, including public art pieces such as the Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln benches. Duah left McMinnville Tuesday, planning to spend several days in Ohio visiting a friend. Then he will return home to his hospital and his family — his wife and three children, girls 8 1/2 and 16 months and a boy 3 1/2.