From UAlberta to Ghana: Improving global health

(Edmonton) A pediatric resident from Ghana, who is visiting the University of Alberta as part of an international exchange program through the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, says the training she received here will help children with developmental problems in her home country.

Eunice Adei says there is a higher level of awareness in Canada about conditions such as autism, a condition that is often not well recognized and is underdiagnosed by the medical community in Ghana.

Adei’s three-month stay from May to August was arranged through the faculty’s global health program and funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.

“We are committed to improving lives through teaching,” said Douglas Miller, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. “Our faculty members meet the basic needs of sorely underserved people by delivering care, sharing knowledge and mentoring international physicians such as Dr. Adei.”

Adei’s medical training at the U of A mostly focused on developmental issues such as autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sleeping disorders and problems stemming from preterm births. She spent two months with clinical faculty members and immersed herself in learning everything she could.

“Back home, conditions like autism aren’t well recognized by either the general public or pediatric residents, so it was something I wanted to get more information on and be more cognizant of in recognizing the condition,” Adei said.

“I now realize quite a number of children we’ve seen would fit the criteria for autism, but we label them as something else, such as having behavioural problems or being prone to seizures. We skirt around the issue and don’t make the proper diagnoses.

“I also learned a lot about the holistic management of children with developmental problems. I have learned so much here that I can take home and share with my colleagues.”

Adei, who works at a teaching hospital in Accra, also spent time in neonatal intensive care, pediatric intensive care and general pediatric wards while in Edmonton.

Comparing the health-care systems and medical problems seen here and in Ghana, Adei says the medicine is the same. But in Ghana, there are high rates of preventable deaths in children, from causes including malaria, neonatal deaths and infectious diseases.

“During high malaria season, kids come in with severe anemia. They are effectively paper-white when they come in—we can see them a mile away. Sometimes, even if we get blood into them within 20 minutes, they still don’t make it.”

Lack of financial resources is also a pressing problem in Ghana, because the national health insurance system there doesn’t cover scans, MRIs or other important tests. So Adei and her colleagues have started a fund for those in need and often use their own money to help families pay for necessary medical expenses. “We do what needs to be done to help those in need—it’s part of being a physician,” she said.

David Zakus, director of global health for the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, said Adei and other residents from international locales have made the program a resounding success.

“We are so happy to have Eunice here with us,” Zakus said. “We have an ongoing relationship with her hospital and the University of Ghana in Accra, but it’s only through these types of exchanges that the relationship becomes meaningful. It’s wonderful to see her be able to learn so much that’s relevant to take back home.”

Owen Heisler, medical director of Alberta Health Services Edmonton Zone, said, "Hosting physicians from other countries is a valuable learning experience for both AHS and the visiting physician, and opens wonderful opportunities for future collaboration and sharing."