Director of Rheumatology Initiative (tRi), a medical non-governmental Organisation, Dr Dzifa Dey, has indicated her preparedness to improve access to emergency life-saving medications for financially handicapped patients with severe autoimmune conditions in Ghana.
Dr. Dey, who was nominated among the ten finalists of MTN Heroes of Change Season IV project, disclosed this when she shared her story in an interview with Today.
According to her, she established the Rheumatology Initiative in 2012 through her personal savings and social media emergency fundraising campaigns she embarked on in Korle-Bu and Tesano communities in the Greater Accra Region.
She said what motivated her to establish the Rheumatology Initiative is to help provide education, advocacy and research into the autoimmune rheumatic conditions in Ghana and Africa.
“In 2012, on my return from training abroad as the first rheumatologist in Ghana, I realised that having firsthand experience about the need for a rheumatology service didn’t mean other people including the health service saw it.
“I was alone, patients were suffering and dying. 48% of admitted lupus cases died! Contrast to what I saw in the UK where in 2 years I did not experience any deaths. These patients were young people in the prime of their lives and if they didn’t die they ended up with permanent kidney damage requiring dialysis for life which cost more to the health service,” she said.
According to her, many patients interpret the diseases to be spiritual.
This phenomenon, she noted, was based on a wide symptom complex and usage of scientific terms and foreign educational material “to explain the disease to them which is very difficult with the resultant effect being a lot of patients default to seek spiritual or herbal treatment, coming back only when the disease is far advanced.”
She asserted that with the right education, the disease can be avoided.
“This requires the education of patients, health workers who unfortunately are lost when it comes to these conditions and making sure that at the critical stages where this damage to organs can be salvaged the appropriate medications was available for those who can’t afford it he explained.
Highlighting her major achievements, she noted that over the years, through these initiatives, she has been able to support the Rheumatology Unit of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), which currently treats over a 1000 people.
She mentioned that “We Lit up the National independence monument of Ghana purple in May 2017 to raise awareness for Lupus this is the first time it Ghana an Africa.
“We organised a one day educational update course in Rheumatology for over 120 doctors from all over Ghana in August 2017 to empower them to be able to diagnose early and efficiently various autoimmune conditions as this would help augment the lack of specialists.
Additionally, she said her outfit has supported the first rheumatology nurse to receive a training programme to help build capacity in the specialised area.
“We have run 66 support group sessions and activities, with an average attendance of 30 to 35 patients monthly over the past 5 years.
Story: Freeman KORYEKPOR AWLESU