Monday, September 8, 2008

Update from Ghana

By Sarah Mihalov

This past week was the most productive and exciting so far. First, after many weeks of discussing, planning, and waiting, the nutrition program has finally begun!! The first step is to interview each of the mothers to gain baseline data on their lifestyle, nutritional knowledge, household decision-making, and current feeding habits of their children. This information is critical in assessing what changes we can help these mothers make in their child's diet in order to prevent malnutrition. In addition, I will be using these interviews and the children's height and weight for my thesis this year. Last week we interviewed 25 mothers!! It was so exciting to finally be doing the field-work that was half of the reason I was here and to see such great interest in the mothers to learn more to help their children.

This week, mothers will come to the center so their children can try nutritious meals made from local foods to find ones they like. This is especially important for children that are being introduced to a complementary diet. Also, children already malnourished or underweight, will come daily to receive meals. We outfitted a room at the center to act as the kitchen with GlobeMed funds, including a stove, rice cooker, pots, plates, etc. It looks quite professional…likely one of the nicest kitchens in Ho! On Friday we also started preparing the porridge or koko that is eaten by infants to adults, supposedly its quite good… There are many varieties, but we are making a maize (corn) and groundnut (or peanut) porridge. This is a long process starting from growing the maize, harvesting and then removing the kernels (which I did and have the blisters to prove it!!), roasting the kernels, and finally grinding it into a powder. A similar process is done for the groundnuts as well! Amazing how much more work that is than say, buying a box of Cream of Wheat!

Second, we also have more concrete plans to establish a laboratory at the center. Various Ghana Health Service people looked at the space and discussed its size. We should have a budget this week and be able to plan out our GlobeMed funding! I hope we can see a lab up and running by the end of the year!

Saturday we were lucky enough to be able to visit an HIV support group with a leader of a local NGO called FUGI, which assists HIV+ people in accessing medications, education, and support. Unfortunately, we had to wake up at 530 am (ugh) so that we could travel to the border town of Aflao, which is on the coast. After about a 1.5 hour tro-tro ride, we made it to Aflao to observe support groups at another NGO called Pro-Link. About 30 people per group (2 total) were given a nutrition, spiritual, and medical adherence workshops. Because people often travel long distances to attend these groups (to avoid being seen due to stigma), this group offers compensation for transportation or TNT and food. It seems like they have a great system in place here and we hope to work with them in the future as we develop the HOPE center. Aflao itself seems much busier than Ho. Because it is a border town (with Togo), it has more movement of people and cargo. Image huge trucks about twice the size of our semi's stuffed full of random things like scrap metal or to-go boxes. Also, Aflao is on the coast. Although the waves are very strong and not conducive to swimming, it was an amazing view. Oddly, off the main roads are alleyways between the various buildings entirely made of sand. This grey sand is very hot from the sun and gets kicked up all over your clothes. On our way home, our friend put us on one of the worst looking tro-tro's I've seen and, of course, it broke down on the way out of Aflao. That's Ghana for you!

It is hard to believe that I only have one week left. And this week is sure to fly by as we will be very busy at the center with the initiation of the program and hopefully more interviews for my study. I also hope to be able to visit all of my favorite places and people one more time before I leave. While I am happy to be coming back to the comforts of home (hot water, Internet, supermarkets), I am sad to have to leave the great people that I have met here. Who knows, maybe I'll be back for more…

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