Wildcats in Ghana
In January, UNH Global Brigades Brought Medical Services – and 21 UNH Students – to Ekumfi Ekotsi, Ghana
Christine Hebert and Ben Claxton, co-presidents of UNH Global Brigades, led a group of 21 UNH students on a medical mission to Ghana over winter break.
“They saw with their hearts, and were open to learning and absorbing the realities of a very low-resource community,” nurse practitioner Susan Hollinger said of the UNH students she accompanied to Ghana.
Wildcats representing at the “pharmacy” set up in of Ekumfi Ekotsi. From left: Jacqui Wilson, Kendall Milkey, Abby Lawrence, Samantha Docos, Christine Hebert, Ben Claxton, Lexi Reddel.
Sara Haley and Christine Hebert with their new best friends. The Americans were magnets for the children of the community.
Ghana was awesome,” said Ben Claxton. “The people were so nice and open. Anyone would give you the shirt off their backs.”
Door-to-door visits to residents in the community provided valuable experiences and public health information.
In addition to suitcases full of medical supplies, the UNH students brought soccer balls to the local elementary school in their host community of Ekumfi Ekotsi.
Despite very inexpensive packaged water, most residents of Ekumfi Ekotsi used this river for drinking water, as well as for bathing and playing.
The students took a cultural day to visit the Cape Coast Castle, a British fort that served as a slave tradepost.<
“Akwaaba. Wo frenni Ya Christine.”
“Wo frenni Kofi Ben.”
With those words of introduction -- “Welcome. My name is Christine. My name is Ben.”-- in the Ghanaian language of Fante, Christine Hebert ’14 and Ben Claxton ’14 met the community of Ekumfi Ekotsi last month. One week later, more than 700 of the Ghanaians were healthier, thanks to the efforts of them and their classmates.
Claxton and Hebert lead UNH Global Brigades, the local chapter the world’s largest student-led global health and development organization. Over winter break, they spearheaded a UNH brigade – 21 students joined by three New Hampshire health practitioners – to Ghana. There, in conjunction with local Ghanaian medical professionals, they provided health and dental checkups, prescriptions, public health education, and even toothbrushes (and condoms) to the small agricultural community of Ekumfi Ekotsi.
And they gained experiences far larger than the suitcases of donated Cipro or anti-malarial medications they brought or the thousands of dollars they each raised to participate. During the four-day clinic, the students – the majority of whom are in health-related majors – did triage, pharmacy, public health talks, and shadowed the health care providers.
“That was really valuable. It got my mind thinking as a physician,” said Hebert, a biomedical sciences major who, like Claxton, is pre-med.
Their clinic days were bookended by door-to-door visits in the community, a sort of extreme public health outreach that was a highlight for the students. “We were able to really get to know the community,” said Hebert.
They learned, for instance, that low-back pain and other bodily casualties of farming were the most common complaints, addressed with simple analgesics. That despite toiling in the fields, most residents ate a starch-heavy diet, selling the vegetables they grew. That the local river, where residents bathed, laundered clothes, and played, provided the majority of their drinking water.
They learned that Ghana, where thick smog blotted the sun for most of the week, is one of the world’s most polluted countries. Burning household trash is the major cause of pollution, prompting one student – the coincidentally named Amber Litterer ‘15 – to institute a “carry-in, carry-out” policy for empty medical containers not only for the UNH group but for all Global Brigades groups in Ghana.
From these home visits and the public health talks delivered as patients awaited their prescriptions, the students felt their work could have a lasting impact.
“Our public health education station was most important. The medicine we give them is not supposed to sustain them until the next brigade,” said Claxton, a biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology major. The students shared information about nutrition, insurance, local resources, and family planning. “We showed them how to put on a condom. That was interesting,” he added.
Nurse practitioner Susan Hollinger of Durham, who accompanied the group, noted the value of such interactions to the future medical providers. “Many of them were able to make big links from the classroom to the real world: for example, how clean water is the foundation for basic health,” she said. “I think they developed a better concept of what ‘sustainability’ is -- and is not -- when providing medical services.”
In addition to Hollinger, physician Janet Perkins of Durham (like Hollinger, a practitioner at Garrison Women’s Health Center in Dover) and Franklin-based nurse practitioner Doneta Fischer accompanied the UNH students to provide professional services in Ghana – as well as mentorship. “They did a great job of getting us involved,” said Hebert.
Based on their experiences in Ghana, both Hebert and Claxton plan to incorporate public health work into their medical careers. Staring down their final semester at UNH, the two anticipate a busy spring of research, final projects, and solidifying future plans. First up: a similar trip to Honduras through Medical Brigades of New Hampshire. They’re recruiting.
In addition to Claxton, Hebert, and Litterer, the following UNH students participated in the trip to Ghana: Adam Braun, Rachel Cyr, Samantha Docos, Candice Ellis, Olivia Ericsson, Taylor Frarie, Megan Grass, Sara Haley, Molly Hartley, Abby Lawrence, Kendall Milkey, Kelly Nolan, Robert Pappagianopoulos, Alexis Reddel, Daren Robinson, Victoria Seetaram, Lily Weyant, and Jacquelyne Wilson.
Written by Beth Potier | UNH Media Relations
Photography by Ben Claxton