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Photo of Donna Alden-Bugden and daugther Olivia with public health nurse Vivian Dordoe at a clinic in the Volta region of GhanaRegion news
Medical mission
Ghana trip eye-opening and rewarding,
says local nurse practitioner
From left: Donna Alden-Bugden and daughter Olivia with public health nurse Vivian Dordoe at a clinic in the Volta region of Ghana.
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By Holli Moncrieff
Jan/Feb 2018

A Winnipeg nurse practitioner who spent three weeks on a medical mission in Africa last fall says the trip was both eye-opening and rewarding.

Donna Alden-Bugden recently returned from Ghana following a stint with a travelling clinic that visited various villages in the country's rural areas.

"The Volta region, where we were based, is one of the poorest in the country," she says. "The type of care they get in Ghana is very minimal. Every day we saw people who needed our help."

While in Ghana, Alden-Bugden was part of a four-person team thgat included nurses, pharmacists, and a physician's assistant. They were assisted by five Ghanaian health-care workers. Accompanying Alden-Bugden on the trip was her 13-year-old daughter, Olivia, who helped with the lab work, performing finger punctures to get blood samples for testing.

The mission was a collaboration between Healthy Villages, Inc., a non-profit organization that supports health initiatives in impoverished villages in West Africa, and Show Me Your Stethoscope, a non-profit organization that boasts the largest active online nursing community in the world, with over 650,000 members.

The trip provided Alden-Bugden and her daughter with a glimpse into the health-care needs of developing countries. As she explains, hundreds of people would walk kilometres to attend the clinics, which travelled around the countryside. Many would line up before the clinic even opened.

Photo of an operating room in the Agbozume Hospital in Ketu Photo of the night sky in Dzita
An operating room in the
Agbozume Hospital in Ketu.
A shot of the night sky in Dzita.

"Several patients had malaria, we diagnosed lots of people with diabetes and hypertension, and two people - a mom and a baby - were newly diagnosed with HIV."

She estimates she treated or referred 1,080 patients during her three weeks in Ghana. "It was exhausting, partly because it was very hot there. We worked from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon, and we needed someone to translate for us most of the time. We ran out of water because we were drinking so much."

Almost every patient she treated had the same symptoms - sciatica and neck pain.

"The people sold wares that they carried in a large basket on their head. They lived with the pain and didn't complain about it," she says. "These people were so happy to see us and needed our treatment. There's not enough people in Ghana doing this kind of work. I think most Canadians would enjoy medical missions. They're fulfilling and you know you've done something purely to help others."

Alden-Bugden has been interested in international nursing missions for years. In 1993, she was the co-ordinator of a project in Guyana that compared the birth weight of infants from pregnant moms enrolled in a milk-and-rice program to those of moms who weren't in the program.

She was browsing nursing missions online through the American job site Indeed.com when she discovered the Ghanaian project.

The experience in Ghana was memorable.

"We saw the poorest of the poor. On one of the islands, we saw young kids making liquor. They had pot bellies and stick arms - they were starving, and they had no clothes," she says. "We also visited a hospital, which was like an open space - we could see everything as we walked through, including labouring mothers."

There were no sheets on most of the hospital beds, and those that did have sheets were poorly fitted. New moms were forced to lie on the bare plastic, says Bugden.

The eventual hope is to staff a clinic in the community year-round. Engineers Without Borders has begun a project to build a permanent clinic in the area.

"The only way the Ghanaians are going to get the care they need is if people teach them and show them where the resources are available. We certainly reached a large number of people."

Both Bugden and her daughter say they would return to Ghana in a heartbeat.

"We got to meet people from across the world, and made new friends from Africa. Working there was the right thing to do," she says. "I need to save up for a bit, and then I'll go again."

Holli Moncrieff is a Winnipeg writer.

For more information about the missions, visit Show Me Your Stethoscope's website at
www.smysofficial.com/advocacy/missions/ or check out Healthy Village at
healthyvillages.weebly.com.