Making a Dent: Plans for Medical Ministry in Ghana

As we drove past the 339-bed Tamale Teaching Hospital in our Global Partners van, I was amazed at the size and beauty of the structure. The hospital campus was buzzing with patients and providers. Clearly it had been, and is continuing to be, renovated, including the addition of a neonatal intensive care unit. The hospital welcomes students from all around the world to train there, and was voted the best teaching hospital in Ghana in 2013.

My first thought was to of course admire the hospital resources available in the community. Perhaps the medical care situation in northern Ghana wasn’t as dire as I had thought.

Then I started to do some math.

Tamale Teaching Hospital serves the 2.5 million people in the northern region, 1 million people of the Upper West, the 1 million people of the Upper East, as well as part of the region of Brong Ahafo and its 2.3 million people.

It also serves the countries of Togo, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso as the regional referral hospital.

More than 6 million people. 339 beds.

Can you imagine a city the size of Toronto, San Francisco, or Philadelphia having only one hospital? Can you imagine trying to get care there?

Even as I looked at the beautiful facility before me, I began to feel the suffocation of health care shortage.

The ratio of physicians to patients is one for every 93,000 in the northern region of Ghana. The question is not as much what will I do, but how will I manage to make a dent in the overwhelming need?

In Ghana, earning the right to practice medicine is an interesting blend of paper and tribal processes. I will need to meet with the Chief District Medical Officer, and first ask to learn about medicine in Ghana. I cannot come in as an expert who is ready to practice. Though I have taken a missionary medical course focusing on treatment of diseases of Africa, I know that there will still be a steep learning curve to understand not only the different diseases that exist there, but the treatments that are available in Ghana. After a time, I will need to return to the Chief District Medical Officer to ask permission to practice.

photo 3My desire is to learn alongside the physician working at the SOS International Children’s Village in Tamale. Not only do they treat the orphans that live in their orphanage, but the health center is open to the community. Since the only physician there is male, and Tamale is predominantly Muslim, I look forward to ministering to the health needs of the Muslim women who are prohibited from being touched by a male physician. When we visited the SOS medical center, the waiting room had dozens of people waiting to see the one physician. When I asked if I could shadow and volunteer, a look of relief spread over the face of the administrator. The answer was a relieved, “Yes.”

My heart though, is still working to address the health care needs beyond just myself. I simply cannot meet the needs of 93,000 people by myself. I can barely make a dent.

My dream is to eventually move beyond making a dent to helping develop sustainable programs to address medical needs, especially in rural areas. We have learned much from the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone about the need for training community health leaders who can disseminate information, treat basic diseases, and know when to refer to larger medical centers while they can still be treated. I hope to use the networks of The Wesleyan Church in Ghana to raise up leaders to help meet the health needs of their communities. In the future, I would also love to welcome students, medical personnel, and other volunteers from the United States and Canada to help provide training and practice to meet the enormous medical and spiritual needs in northern Ghana.

In some ways, I realize that this may sound less than spiritual. But as I look to scripture, I am fascinated by the role that healing the sick played in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew 10:7-8 says, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

Jesus’ commands as He sent out the disciples were overwhelmingly about healing the physically sick, not just declaring spiritual truth. One fifth of the gospels is dedicated to the healing miracles of Jesus, far more than any spiritual conversion stories.

Healing the sick is Kingdom work. I may not ever fully understand why medical work is so close to the heart of Jesus, but I am so thankful that I can live out the gospel in such a tangible way.

Ultimately, I will be focusing on ministry through medicine in Ghana, learning and eventually practicing medicine in the northern region of Ghana. I will also be developing programs to improve health outcomes in Ghana utilizing the networks of The Wesleyan Church to decrease transmission of infectious diseases, reduce child morbidity and mortality from preventable diseases, and improve women’s health outcomes.

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