ACCRA, GHANA - The reason I came to Ghana with Bono's ONE Campaign was to help publicize the introduction of two vaccines to the Ghanaian heath care system a rotaviral vaccine and a pneumococcal vaccine for newborns.
These vaccines will help stave off infant diarrhea and pneumonia which kill more children under the age of five than malaria and tuberculosis combined.
A quick geography lesson:
Ghana is located on the western coast of Africa, sort of: According to the CIA World Factbook it has a population of a little over 25 million of whom nearly 70 percent are Christian. The country is slightly smaller than Oregon.
This is sub-Saharan Africa, located just eight degrees north of the equator, so it is hot just about all the time. The temps have been in the high 80's every day with a "feels like" temperature of about 104 because of the humidity. This is the beginning of the rainy season but we had only one rain storm, which was a dandy, but it passed in about an hour.
The ceremony was a big deal. The President of Ghana is in the U.S. this week, so his wife was the keynote speaker. It is apparently a Ghanaian custom, at the beginning of a speech, to recognize by name and title anyone in attendance whose title is not Mr. or Mrs. There were probably twenty such people in the crowd of several hundred; there were about a dozen speeches so the whole thing could have been shortened by a good half hour if the speakers had found some shortcut.
The vaccination effort is sponsored by the GAVI Alliance (which was formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization), part of the World Health Organization and other multinational agencies based in Geneva.
The ONE Campaign, which invited me on this trip, has a project as part of its overall advocacy mission utilizing the astonishing network of "mommy bloggers" in the United States. There were three mommy bloggers (and one daddy blogger) along so the places we went were designed to be of interest to them, not to an old political hack like me.
We visited two hospitals. The first was a hospital for under-and severely mal-nourished children. Anemia is a big problem here which leads to excessive bleeding during childbirth which, in turn, leads to the death of the mother. With no one to breastfeed an infant, he or she will quickly become mal-nourished and we found aunts, cousins, and even older sisters bringing children in. The most sever cases are admitted, but the majority are weighed, measured, and fed in an outpatient clinic.
The second hospital was the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital which is a sprawling facility with about 2,000 beds. As a comparison, the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC has about 370 beds. And GW is a pretty big place.
The clinic we visited was the HIV/AIDS patients - specifically women patients. By testing women and treating them with anti-retroviral medicines early in their pregnancies there is a 94 percent chance they will not transmit the virus to their fetus and their baby will be born HIV-free.
The HIV infection rate here is under two percent (as compared to the U.S. infection rate of 0.6%) which is low for Africa. USAID folks told us that HIV is actually decreasing in Ghana as the result of better medical treatment and (again, by African standards) a "middle-class" economy.
On a lighter note we visited a company that makes wooden furniture for sale by places like Pier One Imports. This company was begun by a woman who now hires other women (and men) to work for her. Before the recession the he had over 150 employees; but is down to less than half of that now.
We visited another woman-owned business that takes used glass bottles, crushes them, and melts them down into beads, that are hand-painted and also sold world-wide.
When I was invited to go on this trip the Mullings Director of Standards and Practices (who has claimed the right to veto adventures to places like war zones and such) asked me if it was safe. I told her that Delta has a daily non-stop flight from either JFK or Atlanta. If it's safe enough for Delta, it's safe enough for me.
I'll be getting on one of those daily flights tonight and will be back in Washington by mid-morning tomorrow.
Rich Galen lives in Old Town, Alexandria.