In this series of posts, University of Pennsylvania students who took the spring 2019 APOC (Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics) course write about their experience traveling to Ghana in May-June 2019.
by Aime Bienfait Igiraneza (Computer Science, ’20)
The morning was fantastic! Several group members were having a slightly enhanced digestion, which turned out not so great. It did not help that we also saw at least three guys peeing on the street, a serious public health issue that should be looked into. Nonetheless, we were excited for the day and we were not disappointed. We were about to visit one of the regional hospitals. If I were to summarize the day, there were two main takeaways: First, the hospital has an amazing system that works. Second, the potential of the system in place is not fully explored.
We started by meeting the medical director of the hospital along with another doctor specializing in tuberculosis. The main methods used to diagnose TB are microscopy and GeneXpert when the patient can produce sputum. Otherwise, the use of X-rays test is the remaining option. Although patients with TB can be diagnosed within two hours, it is still challenging to catch all cases due to stigma and the fact that testing is only ever done in the morning. Even the detected cases are more likely to be very advanced as people tend to first try other medicines when they encounter symptoms such as coughing, thinking that it will simply go away. However, an interesting program to collect sputum from pharmacies has been initiated which allows professionals to catch those who simply buy cough medicines from drug stores. After being diagnosed, patients are prescribed TB pills and these patients are re-checked after six months, which unfortunately is not always followed up on. When possible, patients are also followed up on at home by special health workers who ensure that pills are taken as prescribed. Even better, injectables are administered once in four months, thus reducing the burden of taking pills every day.
A few technical challenges were mentioned. The first one is that medical records for every patient are still saved in books, which pile up over time making it difficult to manage. A software called Health Administration Management System (HAMS) is used to save patients’ identifications and registration book numbers. When this book is updated, so is the HAMS account corresponding to the particular patient. All this is done in real time. Then, at the end of the day, staff from the Health and Information office use a software called District Health Management System (DHMS) to collect the information about the types of patients seen that day. This information is drawn from HAMS as well as record books. Thus, the challenge is how to automate the uploading of data from HAMS to DHMS in real time without waiting until the end of the day to manually do it. This has not been possible in part because HAMS does not contain all the necessary details.
Overall, it’s impressive how well everything works, given the current structure and workflow. At least, we learned about a few challenges, which by the way, were not always revealed to us. As usual, a ridiculously delicious lunch was provided. We also passed by the mall and bought a few fabrics. When we came back from the hospital, we picked up some KFC chickens for dinner and kept enjoying the incredible Ghanaian hospitality until we called it a day.