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.
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).
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.