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Vancouver Island doctor’s organization improving healthcare in Ghana

Dr. Kelly Hadfield founder and executive director of Ghana Medical Help
Dr. Kelly Hadfield founded Ghana Medical Help 14 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Curtis Comeau)

The face of healthcare delivery in northern Ghana has changed thanks to the efforts of a Qualicum Beach doctor and the non-profit organization she founded 14 years ago.

Ghana Medical Help (GMH) connects hospitals with life-saving equipment and supplies across an area where two million people live, many in extreme poverty.

Dr. Kelly Hadfield travelled to the west African country for the first time 14 years ago as an undergraduate medical student and saw that people were dying from preventable causes. After spending time in the capital of Accra, she moved on to a district hospital in a northern town called Sandema, where there was one doctor for every 88,000 people.

“You walk in and there’s — to support that population, there’s like five, six thermometers sitting there,” said Hadfield. “And four are broken from overuse, and it’s peak malaria season because of all the rain, so there’s three kids per bed and all over the floors.”

She met and befriended a young boy named Moses who had been admitted for a snake bite — a common injury in a region where small scale farming in flip flops is a common way people provide for their families.

An undergraduate at the time, there wasn’t anything Hadfield could do medically (she was shadowing at hospitals), but she knew she could cheer him up with a clapping game.

Moses’ condition appeared to be improving, until he died from internal bleeding.

Hospital staff were unable to diagnose this because of a lack of equipment.

“What really upset me was it felt like he never would have died in a basic facility in Canada,” said Hadfield. “His life has the exact same value. Health equity across the board, it shouldn’t be that he can just die when he otherwise would not have to.”

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The hospital only had a handful of blood pressure monitors and were seeing 300 or 400 people in a day, so staff were forced to look at patients and guess, Hadfield said.

She resolved to do something to help and started researching what the hospital staff reported needing the most.

“This is a project in Ghana for Ghanaian so whatever I was going to try and do was going to involve Ghanaian at all levels,” said Hadfield.

The comprehensive needs assessment came up with 10 basic needs for supplies and equipment such as stethoscopes, tongue depressors and thermometers.

When she returned to Canada she began fundraising and communicating with health care services back in Ghana. Hadfield soon realized through these conversations there were many places facing a similar healthcare situation as Sandema.

“Targeting one hospital, one time just seemed very unintelligent to me and pointless, so I developed then, this methodology where the research would expand,” she said. “Going across the rural communities in the north and the program would expand at the same time.”

Critical to GMH’s success has been the regular assessments that determine how useful a hospital has found the equipment and adjusting based on needs. The assessments are done after one month, three months, six months and nine months.

There are numerous non governmental organizations and Christian groups that operate in Ghana because it is a stable country where people speak English. But despite good intentions, Hadfield said the majority of non-profits’ impact is neutral or negative.

Boxes of donated equipment will sit unused for decades after a well-meaning non-profit organization drops them off, she added, because no one bothered to ask what the hospital needed or to demonstrate how to use the donated supplies.

Hadfield wanted to ensure GMH would deliver necessities, based on regular research. She realized she needed someone to do the research for the six month and nine month intervals, so she asked Dr. Dominic Akaateba for his assistance.

“This is a project that affects where Dominic is born and raised,” said Hadfield. “Every single person that Dominic loves in this world is affected by this project and he got to be the one to collect that impact related data.”

They have run GMH for the last 14 years, with Akaateba as director of operations in Ghana, and now supply 16 district hospitals with basic lifesaving equipment.

The organization is 100 per cent volunteer run, without administration or overhead costs, according to Hadfield.

“People can trust that when they donate to it, it’s going directly to the ground,” she said. “There’s no money going off to pay for big events or somebody’s salary. It’s going directly to Ghana, to the projects.”

With Akaateba, plus a huge community of volunteers in Ghana, Hadfield does not have to travel to Ghana nearly as much anymore.

That’s for the best because her departure would leave a significant healthcare gap in the region. Hadfield runs a family practice in Qualicum Beach, a walk-in clinic at Qualicum First Nation and provides maternity care at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

To donate to GMH or to learn more about its life-saving projects in northern Ghana, visit

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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