Having dreamed for many years of going to Africa, Maui resident and practicing gastroenterologist Dr. Elizabeth Mannick was finally granted her wish.
"I have wanted to take an African trip, but there has always been a compelling reason, whether family or career, to defer this dream," said Dr. Mannick.
After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in public health from Harvard University, Dr. Mannick graduated from Yale University School of Medicine in 1988 and completed her residency in pediatrics at Tulane University Hospital in 1992. She currently provides gastroenterology services part-time in Kahului and part-time at Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children on O'ahu, and enjoys time with her husband and two daughters.
While Dr. Mannick was working in the clinic, her husband and daughter were teaching local children ages 6 to 12 in the schools. “They found the children to be inquisitive, friendly and eager to learn,” she said.
Photo: Dr. Elizabeth Mannick
"In February 2012, an email arrived from the Yale Alumni Association inviting me to volunteer for a two-week medical and educational mission in the village of Yamoransa in Ghana," Dr. Mannick said.
With a lot of prayer, donations of medical supplies and working additional hours to generate extra income, the prospect of going to Africa had come within reach.
"I mailed the deposit check and officially registered myself, my 15-year-old daughter, Simone, and my husband, Conrad."
Conrad and Simone would be teaching school-aged children science and art, respectively, while Dr. Mannick would be involved with setting up the clinical lab where the villagers would be examined and treated.
"Through interchanges among the Yale alumni, I realized that many of the participants were aware of the ethical dilemmas involved in imposing Western medicine, technology and culture in other parts of the world," said Dr. Mannick.
After a daylong orientation to the region and lectures on cultural sensitivity, the group made their first official visit to the village of Yamoransa.
The welcoming ceremony was in the town square where tents shading the hot midday sun formed a semicircle. The local notables and tribal chiefs in attendance wore long robes with traditional prints in red, yellow and orange, in the midst of whom sat the king with a scepter.
"In front of the king, dressed in a long black and white robe, was the shaman who blessed the ceremony in the local dialect of the Ashanti language, the primary tongue of the majority of southern and western Ghanaians," Dr. Mannick said.
Following the opening ceremony, members of each of the different teams visited their respective work places for the following day. "As a member of the medical team, I made my way up a hill where an abandoned single-story, five-room stucco school house would serve as our clinic base," she said.
There was one electrical outlet to plug in a microscope and a computer.
"There was no running water or flush toilets anywhere in the village," Dr. Mannick reported.
Needless to say, she was quite pleased when the villagers brought in portable toilets.
Local college students and an American Field Service (AFS) volunteer were invited to help out in the lab.
"I taught Gertrude and Evelyn, as well as Charles, the AFS volunteer, how to do finger sticks and make malaria blood smears, check blood sugar and read urine dipsticks and urine pregnancy tests," said Dr. Mannick, who also taught them to take blood pressure readings.
When discussing their biggest health problems, the women complained of "waist pain," known here as lower back pain, as well as neck and shoulder pain, and numbness accompanied by tingling down their arms.
"Because I know that many of them carry heavy loads on their heads, it was clear that their symptoms were secondary to degenerative disc disease and back injury," Dr. Mannick said.
Informed that the patients visit an herbalist, as well as a spiritual leader, Dr. Mannick came to understand that in Ghana, many patients simultaneously seek several different types of therapy for their illnesses in an attempt to increase their chances of recovery.
"I was surprised to find many 'Western' illnesses present in Ghana, including diabetes, hypertension, migraines, asthma and hemorrhoids," said Dr. Mannick, who was also amazed to find little malaria in the village, thanks to readily available over-the-counter-treatment.
By the end of the mission, Dr. Mannick's group of 10 doctors, six nurses and three physician assistants had seen and treated over 800 people.
"I had grown close to my local assistants in a very short time due to the large volume of work we had accomplished together," Dr. Mannick said.
"In a third-world country like Ghana where the local population is fairly well educated, there is definitely a need to train local community health workers in settings where no doctors or nurses are available," she said.
After the completion of the mission, there was a closing ceremony. A posse of children waved goodbye as the group's bus drove off.
"I am grateful for the chance to have finally seen Africa and to have participated in this mission," said Dr. Mannick, "but I am haunted by how much is left to be done. I suspect I will be going back before too long."