To Canadians living a comfortable life here, the statistics are frankly staggering. In our companion Diocese of Ho, in Ghana, West Africa, the life expectancy of males is 42. For women it’s 65.
The infant mortality rate is shocking: of 100 babies born, 13.5 die.
In the Volta region, within which the diocese is located, two-thirds of the population live in rural areas, where health care is not accessible.
Births take place in the home by untrained midwives. Infections go untreated and often end in death. Epidemics of typhoid, cholera, dysentery, yellow fever and measles are common. Diabetes, heart conditions and cancer go untreated.
Children often have ringworm, and they can suffer from river blindness—caused by a parasite from the water. Often, the only water available for drinking and cooking is scooped from a dirty stream or pool of water.
“There’s almost no health care at all,” said Robbie Griffin, chair of the Companion Diocese Committee. “People don’t have transportation to Ho — it’s over four hours on very poor roads. And people aren’t comfortable going to the city for health care.”
There’s also prejudice in seeking health care in the city.
Bishop Mathias, the Bishop of Ho, stated, “The rural poor do not go to the hospitals in the city, because they are not treated well. It is difficult even for a Mothers’ Union worker, for example, to visit people, because they are then ‘showing their nakedness.’”
Back in 2010, Bishop Mathias envisioned a health care vehicle for his diocese that would travel from community to community, performing examinations and tests, dispensing advice and medications. But the diocese has very few resources, and the bishop’s dream remained exactly that — a dream.
When Robbie took over as chair of the Companion Diocese Committee, he wanted to put his experience as a Rotarian to good use internationally.
Robbie visited the Diocese of Ho in 2019 to get a feel for what sort of project would work. Without hesitation, Bishop Mathias recounted his vision of health care for the people of the Volta region.
Just how to make that happen necessitated a second trip. Robbie, Lilian Ketch and Cheryl Jacobs visited in January to discern if and how a mobile medical clinic could work.
Though the need was obviously great, there were many obstacles. Who would operate the clinic? From where would the medical staff come? Who would pay for the upkeep of the clinic? Who would pay for the insurance, gas, and replacement parts from the wear and tear on the vehicle of the “holey roads,” as Bishop Mathias liked to call them? Could the vehicle be kept safe and secure? Could licensing be obtained for the clinic from the Department of Health in Ghana? Who would design it?
“You don’t just google ‘need a mobile clinic’ and one pops up,” said Robbie. “I tried that.”
GOD AT WORK
At first it seems the project was dead and the trip a waste. But within a few days, a change had taken place. A meeting with the Rotary Club of Ho went very well. They suggested meeting with the Ho Teaching Hospital, made easier because a new member of Rotary worked there.
“Bishop Mathias, after consultation with a number of Rotarians and several doctors, agreed to meet with the executive of the Ho Teaching Hospital,” said Robbie. “They gave an excellent presentation. They had the head of every department at the meeting.”
It turned out that providing medical care to the rural population was part of the hospital’s strategic plan, so to have this delegation arrive at their door with such a proposal was a godsend.
Every concern was addressed at the meeting. The hospital’s license would extend to the mobile clinic. They have medical and support staff for the clinic, which would also serve as a teaching tool for student doctors and nurses in rural family medicine. Practicing rurally is a requirement for free tuition in Ghana — another incentive to help the project along.
The hospital would pay for all gas, maintenance, insurance, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies for the clinic. In addition, they have a secure compound with onsite security to house the clinic in the City of Ho.
And Bishop Matthias’s request to send a priest along with the medical staff to address mental health concerns was heartily endorsed by the hospital.
The next step is a memorandum of understanding, to form a partnership between the Dioceses of Ho and Fredericton, the Rotary Clubs of Ho and Grand Manan, and the Ho Teaching Hospital. As of press time, that is underway.
Robbie has been hard at work finding a van that will withstand the roads of Ho, and still accommodate all that’s necessary, based on a list of requirements from the hospital. He’s been working with Malley Industries of Moncton, which designs ambulances and medical support vehicles.
The project so far includes the following: an extended van with all-wheel drive housing a medical laboratory with microscope, hematology analyzer, urine analyzer, and an ultrasound unit. A roof rack will carry tents for an army-style theatre (think MASH) for patient intake, examination, and basic procedures, including minor surgeries.
A second van, provided by the hospital, will ferry the staff and students, since the mobile clinic will be packed full of equipment, leaving no space for passengers.
The cost of such a project is large: $90K for the vehicle; $5K for shipping; $75K for medical equipment; $10K for medical supplies; $15K for technology and communication programs, including computers, software and cell phones; $5K for spare parts; $20K for pharmaceuticals; $5K for training on the equipment; $15K contingency fund. The total is $268,750 CDN.
The beauty of this project is the math — Rotary math, to be exact. If this diocese, with help from the Rotary Club of Grand Manan, where Robbie lives, raises $40,000, the district Rotary can match that number to make $80,000.
Then the project will go to Rotary Canada for approval, which would match it, bringing the total to $160,000. Finally, if Rotary International approves the project, it will kick in $100,000, bringing the total to $260,000.
The fundraising has already begun on Grand Manan. The Rotary Club there has pledged $5,000. Robbie has also received a private donation of $1,000; $5,000 from the Parish of Grand Manan; and promises of $5,000 from parishes in Moncton. He will be holding a fundraising dinner on the island, which have proved lucrative in the past for similar causes.
Robbie has put a great deal of work into the project so far, and presented this information to Diocesan Council for approval on Feb. 22.
“In African terms, this is lightning speed,” he said. “Everything is coming together in weeks. The last piece of the puzzle is your opinions and views, and your approval.”
Robbie answered several questions from council members, who unanimously passed the motion to proceed.
“Well done!” said Joni Richardson. “There is no way things could happen this quickly.”
“We couldn’t. God can,” said Robbie.
Bishop David Edwards encourages groups and individual parishioners to support the Ho mobile medical clinic in whatever way they can. To donate, call the synod office at 506-459-1801, ext. 221. You can also send a cheque to the Diocese of Fredericton, with a notation indicating Ho mobile medical clinic.
Finally, you can donate online here, choose “Diocese of Ho mobile medical clinic.” Receipts will be issued by the diocese.
With files from Robbie Griffin.
1. Lilian Ketch, one of three diocesan representatives who visited the Diocese of Ho in January. Here she is with children attending an Anglican school.
2. The streets in the city of Ho, Ghana.
3. The banner being used for the fundraising initiative.
4. Robbie Griffin, Bishop Matthias (in red), and some of the doctors from the Ho Teaching Hospital.