Auburn Outreach Global partners with nursing school to improve communities in Ghana

Published: May 11, 2018
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Ghana is located on the west coast of Africa and is known for its diversity of languages and people. It has a rich heritage and unique mix of cultural groups. Despite its colorful culture and background, some Ghanaian communities lack many of the medical resources available in the United States. The Auburn University Outreach Global office decided to do something about that.

Together with Auburn’s School of Nursing, Outreach Global sent eight Auburn nursing students, two faculty members and five staff members from Outreach Global to Ghana this spring. The mission of the trip was to medically serve the people in the towns of Sekondi in the western region and Nkanfoa in the central region, and leave them equipped to better serve themselves medically.

“The free health care program we just finished in Ghana is one of the latest programs established and implemented,” said Elizabeth Essamuah-Quansah, director of Outreach Global. “We wanted Auburn to become visible in Ghana and make a global impact.”

Essamuah-Quansah, a Ghanaian herself, contacted the mayors of both Sekondi and Nkanfoa prior to the trip to gain their support, which she said they gave freely. She conducted a needs assessment and began collecting medical supplies. Outreach Global and the School of Nursing together conducted a drive to supplement already donated supplies collected by Outreach Global.

In total, 10 boxes of health supplies and 30 boxes of academic books were collected for use during the trip and to donate to the local hospitals.

Partnered with the University of Cape Coast, the third largest public university in Ghana, Auburn nursing students and faculty set up free health clinics in the two towns, treating anyone who came to be treated. In all, Essamuah-Quansah estimates more than 600 patients were seen in a span of four days.

“I’ve never seen a more amazing group of students,” said Valarie Thomas, assistant clinical professor in Auburn’s School of Nursing. “They were hands-on and up for anything. They represented Auburn very well.”

Auburn students and faculty screened and treated every patient for common ailments, such as ear and eye infections and high blood pressure. The biggest challenges they faced were the lack of paperwork for patients and insufficient medical supplies.

“They have the same health issues that we do here in the United States, but they have much fewer resources,” said Assistant Clinical Professor Tanya Johnson. “For that reason, their conditions are much more serious than ours are.”

The needs of the patients went beyond health care. One patient traveled from a neighboring town to come to the clinic, where students determined he was suffering from appendicitis, a potentially fatal condition.

Unfortunately, the patient couldn’t afford the cost of surgery, which amounted to approximately $50. The Auburn team decided to pool their money together so the patient would not be turned away, and he was able to have the surgery. Essamuah-Quansah said he is reportedly doing well.

“The trip was life-changing and humbling,” Thomas said. “We weren’t able to meet every need, but we met the needs that we saw in that moment. We take so many things for granted like running water and sanitation.”

The opportunity for the students to practice health care in a developing country provided hands-on experience in rural health care, which is an opportunity that many nursing students don’t get to experience.

“When you take people to developing countries and they practice rural medicine, they appreciate that their calling is not only to make money but to leave a community better than they found it,” Essamuah-Quansah said. “We benefit academically but also psychologically. These students realize their ethical responsibility to their work and see a perspective that they would maybe not experience everywhere in the United States. They learn how their kindness can make a difference, that their service can impact someone’s life hugely. That is the whole purpose of Outreach Global.”

The team returned with a better understanding of the global community as well.

“Having stepped outside their own culture makes the students realize that the world doesn’t look just like their world,” Thomas said. “It is truly a privilege to be serving someone else and making a difference in their life. It doesn’t matter what they look like or who they are, it is our job as nurses, just like we did in Ghana, to leave every single person with a better life than they had before.”

The students worked for four full days, but had time to experience the culture of the country as well. The first two days of the trip were spent in the capital city of Accra, where students had opportunities to shop, explore museums and visit national landmarks. In addition, the mayor and Member of Parliament of Sekondi and the University of Cape Coast president hosted the Auburn team in their homes for meals.

“We wanted the students to really experience the culture,” Thomas said. “We worked hard but also had the chance to see the beauty of the country. They didn’t just work, they lived.”

The program will be expanded in the future with an additional three days spent in Ghana.

“As Outreach Global, we want to make ourselves visible and increase our global impact,” said Essamuah-Quansah. “At the end of the day, we wanted to have an impact on two communities and make sure our presence is really felt and is beneficial to whoever we reach out to. It’s not only about getting, you also have to give. You can do that anywhere. Kindness goes a long way.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 29,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.