In late April, I attended and presented at the Ghana Physicians and Surgeons Foundation 16th Annual Conference in Los Angeles, USA (http://www.ghanaphysicians.org/2018-gpsf-conference-at-la/) whose theme this year was ‘Non-Communicable Disease: Prevention and Management Dilemma’. The conference took place from April 27-29 and featured a range of presentations, discussions, and activities. The program started with a presentation by Dr. Barbara Entsuah of the Gateway of Hope, Inc. discussing some of their activities in reproductive and gynaecological health missions in Ghana, the high cost and lack of mammographic technologies, as well as their vision to establish a mobile health centre that would provide low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings in Ghana.

A presentation by Dr. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei provided case studies from the FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital on surgical outcomes, complications, and risk factors, leading to a discussion about ways to prevent surgical complications and fatalities. Dr. Asare Christian presented on his work to build much-needed medical rehabilitation capacity in Ghana and establish a rehabilitation centre. He discussed the differences between physical therapy and rehabilitation, the need for rehabilitation services in Ghana to provide care to stroke survivors and others, and his newly established rehabilitation fellowship training programme for Ghanaian medical students.

Dr. Mitch Duinick, a Christian physician discussed his work in Ghana, Afghanistan and other countries over the years and broached the sensitive topics of religion, culture, and health. He touched on the ways in which religion and culture influence health and vice versa and addressed the difficulties in providing holistic healthcare to patients. He explained, for example, how medical doctors are often reluctant to discuss faith in their practice due to perceived legal limitations, despite the fact that many patients seek medical care that acknowledges their faith or often want medical staff to pray with and for them.

A presentation by Dr. Collins Kwarteng proposed an elaborate plan to build The City of Hope Heart & Vascular Center in Ghana to provide quality cardiovascular care. Like Dr. Entsuah, he actively sought support and collaboration from attendees to help realise this vision of enhancing medical care for chronic diseases in Ghana, given the shortage of specialists in the country. Thus, one of the important outcomes of the conference seemed to be providing a platform for collaboration that could lead to tangible actions to improve health and healthcare in Ghana.

Other conference presentations centred on preventive medicine and private practice, the ‘diabesity’ epidemic, the role of nutrition in chronic disease, gynaecologic cancers, liver disease and hepatocellular cancers. An insightful presentation by Dr. Thad Ulzen on prevention in psychiatry discussed some of the psychosocial factors in mental illness and the need for screening and assessments early in childhood to prevent further progression of such illnesses. It also touched on the roles that other sectors such as the education sector and social work must play in order to provide mental healthcare at a community level. The presentation led to a discussion of the often taboo issues of burnout, depression, suicide, and mental illness among doctors and medical professionals themselves and what can be done to tackle this seemingly growing epidemic.

My presentation focused on epidemiologic research on chronic disease in African countries and the types of data that are available to help to understand health disparities in NCDs, with particular attention to population survey data. I provided an example using the Ghana 2008 Demographic and Health Survey to assess regional disparities in tobacco use among men and the factors that may be contributing to these disparities.

One of the most interesting opportunities presented at the conference was that a delegation from Ghana, which included the Minister of Health, heads of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Ghana Health Service, as well as other dignitaries, was present. They presented updates on progress in medical education and services in Ghana but also took input and suggestions from conference attendees in a panel session. Some attendees expressed frustration with the state of healthcare in Ghana and the government’s seeming complicity in this state of affairs. For example, several discussions about the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) came up. Currently, the NHIS covers primary care, maternity care, and has some coverage for surgical care. However, the only cancer-related care covered is for breast and cervical cancer treatment. Cancer screening is not covered by the NHIS which may be contributing to late presentation and poor outcomes for cancer patients in Ghana. Another concern was that a new state-of-the art training hospital had been built at the University of Ghana but has yet to start operations because of conflict regarding staffing and management, etc. Other issues deliberated were how to make it easier for Ghanaians abroad to go back and more actively participate and contribute to affairs at home.

Apart from the academic and professional activities, the conference featured a fundraising dinner dance and gala to raise funds to support graduate medical education in Ghana, residents’ fellowships and medical missions. In all, I felt that the conference provided a great opportunity to become better informed about the current state of healthcare in Ghana with regard to chronic NCDs and what initiatives are being undertaken to address these conditions. It also provided good networking opportunities and potential areas for collaboration on issues such as hypertension in Ghana. I have remained in touch with the young physicians’ arm of the GPSF through Whatsapp where promising discussions about how members can act to improve healthcare in Ghana have taken place. I look forward to seeing the fruits of these labours.

About Kafui Adjaye-Gbewonyo

Kafui is a Research Associate with the Chronic Disease in Sub-Saharan Africa team. She is examining recent trends in chronic diseases and potential social demographic, behavioural, psychosocial and environmental explanations for these trends using data from South African and Ghanaian population surveys. She is also collecting family health histories of chronic disease through interviews with coastal Ghanaians.