APOC in Ghana: May 29th

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 Allaire Morgan (Electrical Engineering, ’22)

Today, the team took various field trips related to water supply and public health. After being picked up on the bus, we drove for about an hour through the busy (and bumpy) streets of Kumasi to the Barakese Headworks of Ghana Water Company Limited. We spent the majority of the morning and early afternoon on a tour of the plant, following in chronological order the retrieval and treatment of water from the reservoir.

Upon walking up to the dam, the roar of the water was powerful. We went into a garage-like building which housed the four large pumps from the dam, pumping water uphill for further processing. After climbing approximately five stories on a shaky ladder, we reached the top of the dam to observe the reservoir from which the Ghana Water Company extracts its water. From there, our team ventured up the hill to observe the water treatment plant.

With the sun beating down, we slowly made our way through the facility, observing each stage of the treatment process in which millions of gallons of water were being treated at a time. The first stage, aeration, takes about six hours to complete. From there, water is pumped into giant drums for sedimentation, where water is stirred and polymers are added to force harmful chemicals to settle at the bottom. Clean water then slowly rises up in the million-gallon drum, with the clean water spilling over the edges to be collected and further processed in large sand filters. The sludge at the bottom of the drum is currently pumped back into the river, which may propose a serious public health problem in the future. The team then followed our guide into the labs, where we observed the various tests which are performed daily on the water after treatment to ensure proper sanitation. Lab technicians perform chemical experiments and culture the water to ensure that water-borne diseases cannot be carried by the filtered water.

After learning so much at the treatment plant, the team jumped on the bus to escape the heat and then traveled, after lunch, to the Komfo Akoye Teaching Hospital to observe the patient intake process in the hypertension clinic. We watched carefully in small groups from the corner of each doctor’s office to see how patients are treated and diagnosed. The doctors see around twenty to thirty patients per day, but on worse days they can see up to forty, with around two being new referrals from peripheral clinics. After speaking with the patient, the doctor makes a prescription recommendation on the patient’s paper file and gives it to the nurse for further processing. Each patient has a paper book which contains all of their medical data and history since coming to the hospital, and they retrieve it from a records room every time they visit. When asked about digitizing the process, the nurses were surprisingly resistant, arguing that they already were used to the paper filing system and they do not have the proper training to efficiently use a computer to file records.

After a long day of observations, the team traveled back to the guest house to eat dinner. Over our meal of pizza , spring rolls, and ambiguous but delicious juice, we discussed the events of the day and refocused our project, ironing out a specific plan for how we want to design our program and creating a vision for its implementation. We went to bed exhausted from a long day’s work but motivated for the project developments to come.