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Doctor Building Much-needed Medical Facilities in Ghana

August 5, 2018

By Peter Jasinski

pjasinski@sentineland enterprise.com

LEOMINSTER -- If you want to build a hospital in Ghana, the first thing you’re going to need is land.

Dr. Edna MarkAddy’s goal was to find a place somewhere outside the capital city of Accra, in an area not too far from where she had grown up. As she searched around the greater Accra region, she happened upon a doctor performing routine checkups on newborns.

With no office to work in, the doctor was performing the examinations outside, standing under a tree.

“The tree was obviously for the shade, but that’s where they were,” said MarkAddy. “I thought to myself, ‘This is a calling. This is probably going to be the place.’”

MarkAddy bought the land and in the last two years has overseen the construction of an outpatient clinic she’s planning to open in January. Her hope is the facility will bring much needed services to a country that has reported ratios of one doctor to every 3,000 patients in urban areas and as many as 30,000 patients in rural areas in recent years.

Ghana’s health care woes became even more prominent less than two months ago, when, Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, one of the country’s former vice presidents, died in the back of a pickup truck on his way to a hospital because an ambulance had been unavailable.

Though these factors do weigh on MarkAddy’s mind as she builds her clinic, they are not the main reason she took on the Herculean challenge of building a hospital from scratch.

Becoming a doctor had been her goal since she was a young child. She planned on attending medical school after her family moved to the United States, but just before she left Ghana at the age of 16, her infant nephew passed away unexpectedly.

She said it was then that she began thinking more of what it would be like to eventually use her training as a doctor to help improve Ghanaians’ access to health care.

“My dream was that if I ever became a physician, this is something I would like to do,” she said.

MarkAddy would go through school and eventually get a job as a family practitioner at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital. Her dream to build something in Ghana lingered at the back of her mind, but began to take on more prominence about eight years ago when her sister died of breast cancer.

As it stands now, the clinic takes up about 2,000 square feet. The building’s structure has been built and construction crews are now working on the interior offices. The builders regularly send MarkAddy photos of their progress and she said her husband is frequently making trips back and forth to oversee the project.

She goes too, when her work allows it.

Staying in Massachusetts to continue tending to her patients here, while also saving the money needed to build the clinic, has kept her from staying in Ghana full-time.

“Sometimes I’ll come back to the U.S. just to work, save, and then go back and spend,” she said.

Thus far, MarkAddy has put about $80,000 into the project, and there are still months to go. Water and sewer access still has to be installed, as well as the building’s electrical system. She’ll also have to pay the staff’s salaries once the clinic is operational. Ghana’s Ministry of Health requires clinics be staffed by a minimum of one doctor, two nurses, and a medical assistant.

MarkAddy said she plans to be on-staff too, at least for the clinic’s early days.

“It’s mine. You have to at least be there at the beginning to make sure the dream became what you wanted it to be,” she said. “I’ll probably go back and forth. I have a family so we’re not uprooting.”

Apart from MarkAddy’s own significant investments, she’s also found a lot of support from fellow physicians and local community members. Much of the larger pieces of medical equipment that will be used to treat patients have been donated by various private practices in the area. She has also partnered with River Terrace Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Lancaster to collect other donated items.

River Terrace Executive Administrator Miatta Green said donations have been coming in from all over Worcester County in the last few weeks. About every other day, she said a new pile of boxes filled with hospital gowns, wheelchairs, and unused medications have regularly accumulated in River Terrace’s lobby.

“I think what she’s doing is pretty impressive. She has made a lot of sacrifices taking on this venture and it’s a monumental feat on her part to acquire the land in Ghana, put up a structure, and see it all through to fruition,” said Green.

If the clinic proves to be successful, MarkAddy said she would want to expand it to include inpatient services and gradually add specialized services for dental, vision, and mental health care.

Over time, she said she hopes patients will get into a routine of knowing to come to the clinic every few months for standard check-ups. For the first few months, or even years, she said she’s fully expecting the majority of patients will be in need of immediate care and that the number of people needing help will sometimes feel overwhelming.

“It will be. And how do you know who to turn away and who not to? It’s going to be a learning curb for me, but the good new is they know you’re open,” she said. “I’m not thinking it will be easy, but we will figure it out.”

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