Fieldnotes from Ghana: Ghana Medical Help

Earlier this year, we sent a small shipment of supplies to a New York-based volunteer with Ghana Medical Help. This Canadian non-profit works to secure supplies and equipment for hospitals in northern Ghana. We spoke with director and founder Kelly Hadfield, whose founding story for GMH follows a similar path to our founder, Lee Ponsky.

She worked in a hospital serving 80,000 patients that had only one doctor and two digital thermometers. There were no pediatric stethoscopes or blood pressure cuffs that fit children under age 10. This scarcity caused many unnecessary deaths while Kelly was there. One death in particular compelled Kelly to launch Ghana Medical Help.

“I got very angry – a 12-year-old boy named Moses died from a snake bite when people thought he was getting better because there was no way to monitor him,” Kelly said. “That never would have happened if they’d had what they needed.”

Two years later, Kelly directs an entirely volunteer-run operation that works closely with staff at 10 hospitals in the two most northern regions of Ghana. Collectively, these hospitals serve 1.5 million West Africans, including people from Togo and Burkina Faso who cross into Ghana for help.

“We have been able to extend our reach because of the huge success we’ve found. Establishing roots and doing research to involve the community in whatever we do have been so important,” Kelly said.

Volunteers ask hospital staff to identify what they most need and find ways to secure those items. This approach is vital to MedWish: A recent report showed that 40 percent of equipment donated to hospitals in poor countries goes unused, because donors often overlook recipient needs. Partners like Ghana Medical Help allow us to ensure that these hospitals get only and exactly what they need.

Even in this short time, these hospitals have seen tremendous improvements in outcomes – from reduced mortality rates to significant improvements in employee morale.

“With no equipment, there is little reason for skilled workers to stay or feel good about what they are doing. They just want to leave as soon as they can,” Kelly said. “With equipment, they are getting motivated seeing the results of their hard work. They see improved quality of care and reduced mortality rates for critically ill patients. The human resources are even harder to find than equipment resources, but it’s clear that having one really helps the other.”

Ghana Medical Help continues to grow. The organization recently launched a new website and anticipates more outcome reports to come out soon. We look forward to following the progress of this new partner and working together in the future to help patients in West Africa.

Many of our partner organizations are like GMH. They are doing incredible work, but are volunteer-run and with few resources of their own. Your gift to MedWish helps support shipments even when resources are scarce. Click here to learn how you can help. 

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