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Battling Polio in Africa: Part 3, Long Days, Tedious Work, But So Rewarding

Categories: Polio

A mother waits while vaccine is drawn for her child at a field clinic in Ghana.

A mother waits while vaccine is drawn for her child at a field clinic in Ghana.

Note: This is Ted’s final posting about his experiences in Ghana volunteering for the Stop the Transmission of Polio (STOP) project during February, March, and April 2010. He returned home on May 1.

VOLTA, April 20, 2010 — Ghana is broken into a number of regions, and I was deployed to three of them. After a brief introductory period in Accra (the capital), I left for Takoradi and the Western Region. There I headed north along the Cote D’Ivoire border, where I spent the next month. I then returned to the Greater Accra Region for a month and then finished my time in the field in Volta, along the Togo border.

A typical day working in the field meant traveling site to site teaching the gospel of vaccine. Following this training with Ted Pestorius, this group of volunteers walked house-to-house during the National Immunization Day. “We vaccinated over 5 and a half million children in March and 5 and a half million again in April!” says Ted.

A typical day working in the field meant traveling site to site teaching the gospel of vaccine. Following this training with Ted Pestorius, this group of volunteers walked house-to-house during the National Immunization Day. “We vaccinated over 5 and a half million children in March and 5 and a half million again in April!” says Ted.

While in the field, it has been my responsibility to assess a clinic’s capacity to provide childhood vaccines. It’s been a somewhat Groundhog Day existence — lather, rinse, repeat. The clinics are spread across large geographical areas, and I can generally visit 4 or 5 clinics a day. I always enjoyed the interactions. Once at the clinic, we cover anything that’s needed, but we always document four key areas: vaccine coverage/surveillance, the cold chain (keeping vaccine cold), injection safety/waste disposal, and polio sensitization. A visit takes anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes, and I found teaching moments during all of them.

The days here are long. Ghana is right on the equator, and the sun and the population are up every morning by 6. We generally don’t get back to the hotel until dark fall (again, just after 6), and then after a meal, I’m generally relegated to my room and a book. I found a used book store here in Accra and loaded up. When I’m not in Accra I can count on the power going out at least once a night — and usually more often than that (I had two nights in one city where we never had any power). So I keep a flashlight handy and have become quite proficient at reading in this manner. I have also gone weeks at a time without Internet access, which was harder than I thought, and it’s killing my fantasy baseball team (my version of handicapping, and I’m still going to win). 

While in the Western Region Ted Pestorius took the time to visit the birthplace of Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana.

While in the Western Region Ted Pestorius took the time to visit the birthplace of Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana.

I miss my family. Twelve weeks is a long time. I’ve missed my kids’ lacrosse, baseball, and softball games. I missed the spring ballet recital. I missed the Super Bowl, most of the Winter Olympics, and March Madness. I’ve yet to see any Major League Baseball or the NBA play-offs (go Hawks!). I did see, of all things, The Masters on a South African sports channel. They had the CBS feed with Jim Nance. But that was only on Sunday and only because there were not any soccer games on. The same channel also provided Saturday coverage, but when I asked my hotel to switch the TV channel, they told me that they only got one sports channel and that it was reserved for that night’s football match. I understood and have actually become a bit of a fan of the Premier League (Tottenham Hotspur FC is my favorite team, and I now know the magic of Messi).

Despite the long days and solitary nights, when I look back on my experiences here, I realize how rewarding my time here has been. I wouldn’t change a thing and would gladly recommend this to others in public health. If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to contact me or go directly to the STOP application site. We can pull out my mouse oracle and see what the bones say.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. May 26, 2010 at 12:39 am ET  -   Eduardo Zamora

    I eventually want to do this type of work. Thank you for posting.

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  2. January 11, 2011 at 8:51 am ET  -   Richard Amoah

    Ted, thank you very much for your posting. Your working is highly motivating and inspires others to do same for the poor and needy. keep it up and may the almighty richly bless you.

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  3. August 13, 2011 at 1:28 am ET  -   Jackqueline Mettig

    Nice blog post. I normally would write more however , I am just surfing on my little cellphone. I even have saved this site and thus expect to return after I get home.

    Link to this comment

  4. January 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm ET  -   Femi Popoola

    Thanks for this interesting post. I have applied for an assignment and your comments just heighten my anticipation and excitement.

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