The GAS partnership, launched in May 2010 and comprising three organisations, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS), AfriKids, a child rights charity, and Ghana Health Services, is now in the fifth year of an innovative collaboration to assist with health care system capacity building in one of the world’s poorest regions, grappling with high levels of mortality and morbidity, linked particularly to crippling levels of malaria infection and exacerbated by climate change increasing the incidence of drought and flood.
The partnership is focusing on five specialties, paediatrics, maternity, theatres and anaesthetics, facilities and estates management and imaging. Successful initiatives to date, verified by external, formal evaluation and supported by funding from the UK government and a number of charitable foundations, include: the introduction of protocols to better identify and treat the sick child; the establishment of a cadre of local midwifery trainers based in the seven hospitals in the region; embedding of the safe surgery check list in all hospitals; the establishment of an anaesthetic faculty delivering, with decreasing support from UK anaesthetists, refresher training programmes to the three northern regions of Ghana; the development of capital project planning processes and major improvement in estate and facilities maintenance arrangements and electrical safety in hospitals throughout the region; training staff to introduce routine ultrasound scanning of pregnant women and the training of assistant radiographers to operate an x-ray machine donated by UHS, thus providing an x-ray service at AfriKids’ Medical Centre where previously there was none.
The enduring strength of the GAS partnership is based on mutual benefit to individual participants and the three organisations. The benefits for UK individuals and institutions most frequently highlighted by the thirty or so Southampton volunteers returning from Ghana are that they feel revitalised and refreshed and have honed skills of value in their jobs, particularly in the area of leadership. Many volunteers cite a greater understanding of how to enact change, communicate across professional cultures and work as part of a team. The opportunity and need to develop skills of ingenuity and adaptability in such a resource poor setting is often noted in trip reports. Several Southampton based volunteers have recently achieved promotion or developed enhanced roles. All attribute their success in large part to the experiences obtained as GAS volunteers.
The partnership hopes that there will be initiatives in the future which will exploit the exceptional real world classroom opportunities which exist in northern Ghana by building structured learning opportunities into UK training programmes for the mutual benefit of both Ghana and the UK.
'At the end of the day, what are we trying to achieve? We are trying to address the health challenges our people face...to stop children dying and improve quality of life...that is our goal. We will achieve this if we continue to work the way we are working.’
Dr. J. Koku Awoonor-Williams, Regional Director of Ghana Health Services, UER.