Ghana: Government Helping Mothers and Children in Ghana ‘One Scan at a Time’

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Ghana has 319 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births and ranks 32nd in the world for maternal death. ISUOG and GE Healthcare team up to provide ultrasound training to midwives and sonographers in Ghana. ISUOG’s Ghana Outreach Project hopes to reduce the number of maternal deaths by training local midwives, sonographers and OB/GYN practitioners in ultrasound so they can in turn become trainers. GE Healthcare donated three Voluson ultrasound systems to the program and sent ultrasound specialists to help train the participants.

ISUOG and GE Healthcare team up to provide ultrasound training to midwives and sonographers in Ghana

In developing countries around the world, childbirth is a leading cause of death for women. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies. That’s why the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology (ISUOG) teamed up with Women’s Health to Wealth and GE Healthcare to create an ultrasound training program in Ghana.

Ghana has 319 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births and ranks 32 nd  in the world for maternal deathISUOG’s Ghana Outreach Project hopes to reduce these numbers by training local midwives, sonographers and OB/GYN practitioners in ultrasound so they can in turn become trainers.

Ultrasound can help identify common complications such as ectopic pregnancy, placenta previa and abnormal fetal growth, allowing mothers to get proper treatment before birth and plan deliveries in hospitals. GE Healthcare donated three Voluson ultrasound systems to the program and sent ultrasound specialists to help train the participants.

“Ghana has high rates of infant and maternal mortality, a lot of them for preventable conditions,” says Dr. Theodora Pepera-Hibbert, a volunteer with the ISUOG training team and a native of Ghana. “This is where ultrasound can pick up conditions that can make childbirth safer for the mother and the baby.”

Dr. Pepera-Hibbert joined ISUOG in 2015 and recently returned from a second trip in March 2017, when the team identified six out of 18 trainees who qualified to become trainers.

“It has been incredibly exciting to see the impact this project is having as the trainees now become the trainers,” adds Barbara Del Prince, Director of Global Product and Clinical Management at GE Healthcare’s Women’s Health Ultrasound. “By equipping these midwives and sonographers with the right tools and skills, we hope to improve the lives of women and children across Ghana.”

“The Kumasi Metro Area truly wants to make a difference in women’s health across Ghana,” says Gesù Antonio Báez, ISUOG’s International Development Coordinator and overseer of the Outreach program. “With this desire to drive sustainable change, we’re confident that the program can succeed.”

The program includes a week of intense classroom and hands-on training at one of three locations in Kumasi. Afterwards, participants check in with mentors in weekly video chats to discuss images they have scanned and receive support on their scanning capabilities.

“We train midwives and sonographers to recognize what’s normal so they can identify abnormal ultrasounds and refer the mother to a specialist,” says Dr. Pepera-Hibbert. “It’s wonderful to see a midwife who didn’t know one end of a baby from another on an ultrasound now discuss the ventricles of the brain. It has been amazing.”

She says the program’s commitment to Kumasi, one of Ghana’s largest metropolitan areas, paired with continuous support after the training, is key to ISUOG’s success. “The quality of the ISUOG trainers shines above other training programs we’ve had in Ghana,” she says. “It’s one of the best programs I’ve seen running.”

She also points to GE’s involvement as a key factor. “I don’t think the project would have been as successful without GE’s support,” says Dr. Pepera-Hibbert. “GE has been absolutely crucial not only in providing the ultrasound machines, but also the backup and support of their applications engineers.”

Sonographer Abekah Adams joined the program as a trainee in 2015. When he was 13, he saw his mother struggle during her pregnancy and delivery of his youngest sibling. That experience inspired him to participate in the ISUOG training program.

“I want to help mothers safely deliver their children,” he said. “I know that my mother suffered a lot when she delivered, so I always had it in my mind that, when I grew up, I would help mothers deliver and return home safely.”

Now he says he has the skills to help Ghanaian women so they don’t have to suffer like his mother. “I love ultrasound,” he says. “We’re going to help Ghana because ISUOG has given us a lot of training and knowledge about ultrasound so we can give the right diagnosis.”

Dr. Pepera-Hibbert agrees that the experience has been nothing but positive for herself and the people of Ghana. “I’m very grateful to GE and ISUOG for taking the time and the dedication to not give up on Ghana even when it’s been challenging,” she says.

Between 2016 and 2030, as part of the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals, the goal is to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births. With this ISUOG program, progress is already well underway.

“I think it’s an amazing gift, and I’m just so thankful Ghana was selected for this long-running program,” says Dr. Pepera-Hibbert. “That’s why I feel so committed to making sure there will be a sustainable outcome. I feel really dedicated to making that happen.”

This article first appeared at GE Healthcare’s The Pulse.