It’s the little things…

It is the eighth week of my PULSE assignment in Ghana with the Millennium Villages Project Tropical Laboratory Initiative.  I am happy to say that things are improving here, both with the laboratory and some of the personal logistical challenges.  It may be pure coincidence, but since the local elections a few weeks ago, the power situation in Ghana has improved somewhat.  I notice that the electrical outages so common in the first 5 weeks of my journey, have become less frequent.  I have power at my hotel now almost every night for at least about half the evening!  That means I also have running water for several hours.  To those who have gone through the lack of a nice hot shower for 5 days at a time, they will appreciate my new found giddiness.  Last week, the wife of Ghanian President Mahama visited Manso Nkwanta, so I got to see her up close and personal.  A lovely, talented and warm, caring woman and a credit to the position of first lady.  If I spoke better Twi, I might have been able to understand more of the speeches regarding dedication of new local health and education services.

The laboratory also continues to progress down the road to self sufficiency.  I was able to help the laboratory get new working lights, chairs, clock, towels and racks, cleaning supplies, and most importantly, yesterday we installed a new water bath.  The photo above is Atta, our medical technologist, standing next to the  new water bath in the Tontokrom TLI lab. It will allow the lab to do G6PD assays which we couldn’t perform previously.  The Ghana Health Authority inspectors a couple years ago had also recommended we have a water bath for our next laboratory reaccreditation, so it helps on that front as well. Glucose 6 phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency is a very common inherited trait in people from West Africa and can cause hemolytic crisis in patients who are given common antimalarial drugs. The availability of the assay will therefore help predict and prevent severe drug toxicities in the large number of patients needing malaria therapy and steer them to alternative therapies. Through some local contacts and some great and helpful advice from colleagues at GSK, I was able to procure a machine that even had the correct electrical plug.  The next big addition for the laboratory will be an ultrasound machine so we can begin to assess pregnant women for parturition complications.  I am trying to find ultrasound training opportunites for the staff, but that is continuing to pose challenges.

I am becoming accustomed to the long bumpy drives every day, as well as the ever present dust and smoke.  The diet is a little monotonous, but it has done wonders for my waistline.  Now if I could only get the ATM machines to work on a regular basis!  Hardly any businesses except a few hotels in the major cities accept credit cards, so keeping enough cash to pay for the hiring cars and taxis, meals and weekday hostel fees remains my biggest logistical struggle.  However, since I now have more regular water and electricity, my cashflow problem seems little more than a nuisance that I am less worried about. I just have a routine on weekends established where I stop by 4 or 5 neighborhood banks and find the ATM that works that day with my credit cards.  The stroll makes for a nice hike and I get some exercise.  Then I return back to my hotel for a hot shower, cool drink by the swimming pool and a hot meal.   It’s the little things!!!

Until next time.  Ken


  1. Hi Ken,thanks for the blog, it is a good read. I had similar issues with cash point last year and found that all was about timing and that certain ATMs were more likely to be full at certain times. Good luck with your quest.

  2. Grat blog Ken. Good luck on your continued efforts to create sustainable change. I second your thoughts on a new environment and diet helping to increase our fitness. I walk several miles a day and I have a newfound energy. It’s like I’m ten years younger!

  3. Fantastic to hear the progress on the lab Ken! And the picture of Atta next to the equipment is just perfect /telling of your work environment & impact. You are doing great w/ dealing with the logistical challenges – a terrific example of the real PULSE gene of flexibility & adaptability even in the worst situations! Glad that you have the little things to keep you smiling. Best of luck, Manu.

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