On arrival to do my four week physiotherapy elective placement in Ghana, I had read up on the pathologies most commonly found in this country and gone over all my special testing etc. I knew that physiotherapy in Ghana was going to be different from in the UK in many ways but there really is no way of being 100% prepared for what you will experience out here.
The physiotherapy department in Takoradi is one of two in the whole of the Western Region (that’s like having two departments in the whole of Scotland) and it consists of only 2 physiotherapists and a few technical instructors. The department is made up of an adequately equipped gym, two examination rooms and a few rooms curtained off for electrotherapy. By 8AM the waiting room is jam packed with patients, some of who have travelled 50km to get here, and all eager to be seen. There are no appointment times, only an allocated day in which you must turn up and you will eventually be seen, and if you are lucky, treated. Everyone is treated at this department so it’s like doing a paediatric, neurological and outpatient placement all rolled into one.
By 8AM the waiting room is jam packed with patients, some of who have travelled 50km to get here, and all eager to be seen
The conditions seen here are very varied, such as stroke which is very common here as well as the UK, to Erb’s palsy. I had never come across a case of Erb’s palsy in the UK, probably because it is caused during birth when the brachial plexus is stretched and caused nerve damage to the baby’s affected arm. In the UK if the baby is very large (the main cause of this palsy) then the woman would receive a c-section whereas in Ghana, many women do not receive their last scan and so the size of the baby cannot be determined, making this condition very common here. It is very interesting to treat and I am so glad I have seen it and treated it as I would not have had the chance in the UK.
Everybody is very friendly over here and willing to help and very enthusiastic to learn. It is definitely as much of a learning experience for them as it is for us regarding treatments we use in the UK and just general way of life. I have also had the chance to attend the HIV clinic which was very interesting and I also spent a day helping at a village outreach programme for babies where they get vaccinations, weighed and education on malnutrition.
There is also a club foot clinic run by one of the physiotherapists, a nurse and a doctor and so I spent a day there. I watched the doctor do an Achilles tendon release on a 4 month old baby with no pain relief which has to be one of the most horrendous things I’ve seen, especially as this is not practiced in the UK anymore and so I felt it was unnecessary. That is the way things are done out here though and so you have to respect it.
I am now at the end of my 4 week elective which is an experience that will stay with me forever. Although sometimes I did not agree with certain treatment approaches, there is a lot of good work going on here and I have loved every minute. I am certain that over the next few years with more education and funding, physiotherapy in Ghana has a very positive future and I would love to return one day soon.
Lianne Brunton, 3rd year physiotherapy student from Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland