Utah doctors, nurses go global to teach, heal and learn

By Alyson Heyrend

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 4:09 p.m. MDT

Hoffman — accompanied by his wife Carolyn and daughter Andrea — either screened patients or operated every day in Kumasi. He began visiting at least a decade ago. KATH’s current day administrator — Dr. Baffour Awuah — credits him and the other ophthalmologists from Utah with training Ghanaians not just to operate but to diagnose and treat disease before it causes blindness.

“The Utah doctors are helping me with training that fits the context of our local culture and conditions on the ground,” said Awuah. “For example, we must ask, can our patients afford it?”

Dr. Robert Bolte, a pediatric emergency doctor, and his colleagues from Primary Children’s Medical Center’s emergency room staff, ICU, orthopedics, gastroenterology, ophthalmology and infectious disease units, teamed with doctors from Kumasi at the 10th annual KATH Children’s Health Conference at the U. of U. Medical Center. Originally, only doctors attended. Now medical students and residents also participate. This year’s keynote speaker said “the number of pediatric subspecialties is growing and is benefiting the children of Ghana.”

Bacterial infections and malaria are the biggest causes of childhood deaths in Ghana. The country has high infant mortality in the range of 75 per 1,000.

According to the World Health Organization, malaria caused an estimated 700,000 deaths in 2010, mostly in African children. It is preventable and curable, if diagnosed and treated early.

Ampofo, who spoke at the conference on neonatal infections, said that as in the U.S., antimicrobial resistance is increasing in Ghana. He said the main source of infection is the mother as 10 percent of pregnant women have MRSA — a super germ that has developed resistance to most antibiotics.

Another conference presenter, Dr. Daniel Ansong, is a malaria specialist and one of the first doctors at KATH to welcome the U. of U. medical providers to Kumasi. Ansong said there are 800,000 deaths annually from complications due to malaria, but when treated, mortality drops to less than 20 percent.

In the early days of the Utah staff’s visits, Ansong and other KATH doctors — including hospital administrator Dr. Patrick Karikari and pediatrician Justice Sylverken, had only one request at the end of each visit: “Just please come back.”

But soon they identified more specific needs. Karikari — who in 2010 stepped down as KATH administrator to establish a dental program within the school — told me that “70 percent of the doctors trained in Ghana were leaving to practice in foreign countries.” (Hale says that figure now is probably more like 30 percent.)

“For years,” Karikari said, “this hospital had a single pathologist.” That doctor’s primary focus was running the morgue.

Pathology is the study and diagnosis of disease through the examination of organs, tissues and fluids. The vast majority of cancer diagnoses are made by pathologists. Analyzing blood samples from an annual checkup alerts a doctor to any changes in health early — when successful treatment is most likely.

“By 2004-2005, the turnaround time on lab results at KATH was so long as to be almost useless to the doctors,” Karikari said.

So a request was made to the U. of U. colleagues for help with establishing a training program for pathologists. An assist from Hale and a significant commitment by Dr. Tom Coppin, a retired pathologist, and his colleagues by way of the Pathologist Overseas group produced a rotation of temporary volunteers to KATH, while a university in Norway trained two Ghanaian pathologists (over four years). Today, there are five Ghanaian pathologists on the faculty, completing timely test findings that aid in diagnosis and treatment.

According to Karikari, the collaboration with the U. of U. medical providers has “opened a lot of boxes for us, including dentistry, public health and child health in the areas of ophthalmology, pediatric infectious disease, orthopedics and emergency treatment.”

A new eye center — built with support from USAID and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — is scheduled to open at KATH perhaps as early as this year.

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