Graduate School of Nursing alum building community clinic in Ghana

Ahenkorah on a mission to bring primary care to Africa

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

September 26, 2013
ghana-ama-freda
GSN alum Ama Ahenkorah (left), founder of Boston Medical Services Ghana, is pictured here with trustee Freda Archeval in front of the not-for-profit international organization’s new primary care clinic in Accra, Ghana.

A new health clinic has risen from the scrubby terrain in a remote part of Ghana. It’s empty now, but with continued local and international support, it will soon be staffed and equipped to bring primary care to the community’s impoverished men, women and children.

“We want to influence policy and change the fundamental mindset about the value of primary care,” said Worcester nurse practitioner, Ghanaian native and Graduate School of Nursing alumna Ama Ahenkorah, MS, FNP, who spearheaded the project. “The way we can effect change is to get a space of our own in which we can prove that we can get better outcomes with preventive primary care than acute hospital care.”

Ahenkorah is doing just that as the founder and president of the not-for-profit international organization Boston Medical Services Ghana, which she established to “bring primary care to Africa through Ghana.” UMass Medical School is among a cadre of international collaborators who have signed on to help make Ahenkorah’s vision a reality.

“This marks a continuing relationship between faculty and a former student who is now a colleague,” said Robin Klar, DNSc, assistant professor of nursing. “We are interested in global health and want to continue to demonstrate the effectiveness of primary care in all developing countries, starting in Ghana, where we have a foothold.”

Dr. Klar and Rosemary Theroux, PhD, associate professor of nursing, have both conducted research in Ghana. Dr. Theroux led a community service learning experience which proved pivotal in Ahenkorah’s career, and both have mentored Ahenkorah through her own journey from immigrant to community caregiver. They are honored to be founding trustees of BMS Ghana.

The Graduate School of Nursing is where Ahenkorah first discovered her passions for caring for families and serving the underserved. Her decision to become a family primary care nurse practitioner stemmed from her participation in the community clerkship, which focused on infant mortality in her own Ghanaian immigrant community.

The new clinic has been built in the Adentan municipality in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana, a locale whose lack of medical resources and poor health indicators are typical of the developing nation.

In a country where there is only one doctor for 10,000 people, medical facilities are few and far between, and most live in poverty, the population has an average life expectancy of just 57 years for men and 63 years for women. Infant mortality is high in a culture where women do not seek medical care during pregnancy and traditional beliefs may override scientific facts. The country has made some progress against infectious, communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria, but more needs to be done. And, most striking to Ahenkorah, Ghana pays little attention to preventing and controlling non-communicable but debilitating and life-shortening diseases like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and asthma.

In her busy primary care practice at Worcester’s Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center, where many of Worcester’s immigrants from Ghana and elsewhere seek care, Ahenkorah encounters daily the ravages of chronic illnesses that were never diagnosed and treated in patients’ countries of origin. She sees numerous patients for whom “just a finger stick can save a life.”

The Boston Medical Services Ghana clinic will provide basic primary and preventive health services, including pre-natal care and continuity of care for patients with chronic medical conditions. The facility will house a laboratory for standard medical tests, imaging services including ultrasound and X-ray, and a pharmacy. Initially, it will be staffed locally by one doctor and two nurses, buttressed by a year-round cadre of volunteers and trainees.

“We will be recruiting volunteers from the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Nursing,” noted Ahenkorah, who has been overseeing each detail and pursuing all avenues to get everything from medical equipment and medicine to paint and furniture for the new clinic. The bootstrap operation is receiving boosts from Global Giving, and Help Us Help Others, which will host a gala fundraising ball for BMS Ghana in February.

“One brick at a time, one clinic at a time, we will build it.”

Related links on UMassMedNow:

From newcomer to community caregiver: One immigrant’s story

Faculty travel to Ghana seeking clues to Worcester’s infant mortality mystery