August 14

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Walking in the Footsteps of Giants

It is the end of the second week of my PULSE assignment for GSK in Ghana for the Tropical Laboratory Initiative and it has been a busy one.  As always the views in this blog represent my own opinions and not those necessarily of GSK or the Millenium Villages Project.  It has been rough getting used to no electricity or running water at nights but the initial fruits of my labor have been extremely personally rewarding.  This week I worked in a mobile diabetes screening clinic in one of the small villages and we were able to identify two people with blood glucose levels 4 to 5 x normal and referred them to the district clinic. Another day I worked in the TLI lab and diagnosed several cases of malaria and one of hepatitis, and two other days I visited the clinics and identified some issues with the laboratory interface and courier system that I am working on next week to resolve. I helped get a generator for the lab, which will greatly improve the diagnostic abilities.  And that was only this week!!!  It is always daunting to come into a new position and role and to expand your duties out of your comfort zone, even more so when your co-workers have different customs and ways of working.  It is especially daunting to follow in the footsteps of previous PULSE volunteers who have become legends:   Nela from GSK helped establish the laboratory and put it into operation, and Patrick from GSK increased the number of working tests and assays and wrote most of the SOPs and laboratory procedural methods.  They are both venerated by the staffs at the MVP and Earth INstitute, and their’s will each be huge shoes to fill.  I come into this position with the expectation from the sponsors that I will be as great as the two previous PULSE volunteers.  That’s pressure!  Nela and Patrick still have their pictures on the wall of the TLI lab in Tontokrom as noted in the picture above (this photo is of Nela with the lab staff).  My objectives are a little different than the previous two PULSE volunteers, as I am to oversee the transition of the lab from UN funding to a sustainable, free existing lab that is effectively compensated by the Ghana insurance authority.  Can I say daunting a third time in this blog without boring everyone?!  A few notes about Ghana:  The people are warm and friendly and it is a much safer country than many other parts of Africa.  The biggest hurdle is that the distances to go to operate effectively as an aid worker in the Ashanti region are immense. During the week, I stay at a hotel which is 35 minutes drive from the MVP office in Manso Nkwanta, and the laboratory is over an hour’s drive past the office in Tontokrom.  Some of the clinics within the Bonsaaso cluster that we serve are even farther, from 30 to 60 minutes drive through the jungle on very rough dirt roads laden with enormous potholes.  Therefore I spend a lot of my days in a truck or SUV moving about the  countryside.  Weekends are spent in Kumasi in a hotel, where I finally get a shower and a TV. For  those who have not yet done a PULSE assignment, I can highly recommend it, and for those previous PULSE volunteers from the TLI or MVP and other parts of Africa, I thank you all deeply for the helpful tips which let me prepare for the experience.  Without that advice and sage wisdom, I would be much more confused, uncomfortable, lost, and probably hungry!!   Until next time…..  Ken