A medical student learning to specialise in the treatment of burns has spoken of the challenges in delivering help to those who suffer serious burn-related injuries in Western Africa.
Lucy Watson, who recently returned from a period of elective study in Ghana, was guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Oldmeldrum, where she shared her experiences of working in the busy Korle-Bu teaching hospital in Accra.
Established in 1923, the 2,000 bed hospital is recognised as one of the major teaching hospitals in Africa and is the third largest hospital on the continent. The hospital’s specialist plastic surgery and burns centre was set up in 1992 through the work of the ReSurge charity and the help of doctors from Glasgow’s Canniesburn Hospital.
The 73-bed reconstructive plastic surgery and burns unit, which treats both adults and children, deals with around 300 admissions each year.
Lucy described some of the problems faced by medical staff, through patients presenting late because they don’t realise the risks of infection following a burn, or through a lack of basic medical knowledge in more local treatment centres in how to deal with burn-related injuries.
She also described the difficulties which many ordinary Ghanaians have in meeting the resulting medical bills.
Lucy said: “Often, people are unaware of the need to get to a city for proper burns treatment. Local nurses do their best, but if families can’t afford to buy bandages they often won’t get changed, which is a big cause of infection.
“It’s a combination of a lack of money and lack of education. Quite often, doctors will make allowances for children and their parents’ inability to pay for treatment. While there’s a form of national insurance in Ghana which costs approximately £7 each year, that still barely covers the costs of treating a burn.
“As a result, patients often stay in the hospital for months because they can’t afford to leave. Usually, a message is sent back to the local community that they need money to settle the bill and very often, the community will raise the money for them.”
While in Korle-Bu, Lucy studied case notes on burns injuries covering a year.
Her findings showed that 80% of children’s burns injuries affected the under fives - a figure comparable to that in Scotland. However, while mortality in Scotland was around 0.03%, it was nearly 17% in Ghana - a figure attributable to the lower availability of medical care in Ghana, children helping to carry boiling water around the home and the widespread use of open fires for cooking and heating.
Lucy latterly travelled to near the border with Burkina Faso where she saw a mobile hospital outreach team carrying out more than 100 operations in just four days.