December 22, 2015
WomenStrong International improves access to resources that enable women and girls to meet their 6 Essential Needs and help break the cycle of poverty. In Ghana, during its first year of operation, Women’s Health to Wealth, founded and led by Mme. Abenaa Akuamoa-Boateng, has implemented a series of innovative solutions with great success. WHW put WomenStrong International’s vision into practice in two ways:
– first, by addressing the 6 essential needs for health, safety, education, economic empowerment, shelter and a functioning urban environment;
– second, by working through groups as an effective vehicle for directly connecting with, hearing and serving women and girls.
Using women’s health as the entry point to empowerment
Women’s Health to Wealth has screened nearly 1,000 women, catching many cases of hypertension, diabetes and precancerous cervical lesions treated onsite, with more serious cases and breast lumps referred to specialists.
Set up to serve and empower market women in and around Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city and the capital of the Ashanti region, in the course of a number of months, Women’s Health to Wealth has screened nearly 1,000 women, catching many cases of hypertension, diabetes, precancerous cervical lesions treated onsite, more serious cancers referred to specialists and some advanced cases resulting in major surgery, with follow-on care provided by WHW.
Given how busy they are plying their trade and caring for their children and extended families, the women who feed Kumasi generally don’t have time to take care of their own health. All the women screened now have electronic medical records and can be reached for referrals and for follow-up care. WHW also reaches out regularly to the women in its programs with information and trips on health and nutrition, disseminated via community radio, WhatsApp and monthly health meetings.
Hundreds of those screened have joined savings groups; 130 have joined groups focused on Social Capital Credits, or SoCCs, a social currency whereby people can trade services rendered for other desired goods and services. In mid-November the women explicitly linked their community’s and environmental health to their own economic empowerment by undertaking a community clean-up in and around the market as a way to earn SoCCs .
Training medical practitioners serving mothers-to-be and newborns
To help save lives, WHW and WSI have organized training for 25 medical practitioners in ultrasound technique conducted by the London-based International Society for Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Adding to the health burden on women and families across Ashanti are the region’s extraordinarily high maternal and neonatal mortality rates. To help save the lives of both, WHW and WSI have organized training for 25 medical practitioners in ultrasound technique conducted by the London-based International Society for Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology. With support from American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Johnson & Johnson, we have also facilitated training for midwives serving mothers-to-be in and around Kumasi. Now WHW has facilitated training and refresher training for midwives in the AAP’s Helping Babies BreatheTM, an ingenious, life-saving protocol teaching both medical practitioners and laypersons to identify newborns whose nasal passages are clogged and save them from asphyxiation. In mid-November WHW and the Ghana Pediatric Society celebrated World Prematurity Day with a public lecture by WHW Director Akuamoa-Boateng, introducing the use of SoCCs-based small loans schemes among low-income mothers of premature babies where the mothers’ financial insecurity can adversely affect the babies’ health. A local philanthropist has endowed a revolving fund that the Ghana Pediatric Society will administer for this population.
To commemorate the successes of these and other WHW initiatives affecting neonatal survival, the health administrations of the region’s Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) and the Ashanti Region recently recognized Women’s Health to Wealth as a major player and game-changer in newborn health.
Investing in education and community support for adolescent girls
In its first year, Women’s Health to Wealth has organized 15 Girls’ Clubs for 1,500 girls in schools in and around the city.
In addition to serving the market women and their newborns, the other key component of WHW’s and WSI’s work is with adolescent girls, which it carries out using the same organizing principle: in groups. In its first year, Women’s Health to Wealth has set up and is now running 15 Girls’ Clubs for 1,500 girls in schools in 14 communities, both in and around the city. In establishing and convening these Clubs, WHW staff became aware of the high numbers of adolescent girls out of school. Mostly, they got pregnant and dropped out; others left to fend for themselves; now working as prostitutes, many of these girls feel themselves to be beyond school, ashamed to return, and unable to do so financially in any case.
After identifying 46 adolescents who are either mothers or pregnant, WHW set up inclusive community structures to reach out to and nurture these girls. WHW staff have led sessions with the girls, to talk about their future dreams and to chart the girls’ paths toward achieving these dreams. As a result, 10 young girls — three pregnant, seven moms — are now back in school, with commitments of support from the schools, communities and parents, to help the girls succeed. (http://www.womenstrong.org/stories/58-women-s-health-to-wealth-getting-teenage-mothers-back-to-school)
Together with the schools and with the global reproductive health organization Marie Stopes International, Women’s Health to Wealth has held three Adolescent Reproductive Health Forums, where the 1,400 participating girls have received reproductive health information and have had the opportunity to ask questions one-on-one. A follow-up medical screening at one of the schools brought in 54 girls, 14-15-year-olds, more than half of whom had had abortions, two of whom were pregnant, two with children at home, and nearly all with sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Through our Girls’ Clubs, WHW and WSI now have a far better appreciation and understanding of what’s on the minds of adolescent girls and how to address their concerns and needs. Before the series of Adolescent Reproductive Health Forums, for example, we didn’t realize that the boarding schools housing nearly all of Ghana’s senior high school girls in and around Kumasi have no school nurse or medical clinic or office where girls can go when they are sick or have an emergency during the night.
This gap puts girls at extraordinary risk – for those suffering from malaria or other childhood diseases and injuries, and especially for those with painful STIs or those who fear they are pregnant, who, without onsite medical attention, are driven off-campus to seek and to pay for unlicensed, disreputable and unsafe care.
So now WHW is speaking with officials in the Ghana Health and Education Services, to remedy this shortsighted gap in the provision of health services to Ghana’s future women leaders and mothers who are entrusted to their care while at school. To help fill the gap in the interim, WHW has also organized dental and health screenings for girls in some of the Girls’ Clubs, to identify problems before they become medical emergencies. WHW has also held Girls’ Club Focus Group Discussions on menstruation, where WHW gave the girls attractive packages of reusable sanitary pads that were well-received by the girls.
But WHW’s work with girls is not all so serious: as part of its commitment to holistic programming and the importance of engaging the whole child, WHW has organized football (soccer) matches between some of the Clubs.
WSI has illustrated elsewhere how WHW has helped spur achievement and academic excellence among the girls in the Clubs , and the organization’s efforts to address the vulnerability of at-risk adolescent girls ]
But WHW’s work with girls is not all so serious: as part of its commitment to holistic programming and the importance of engaging the whole child, WHW has organized football (soccer) matches between some of the Clubs (http://www.womenstrong.org/stories/59-building-confidence-through-team-sport-a-girls-clubs-football-match ), where the girls could cut loose and sharpen their skills on the field.
Through donations of medicine, medical supplies, and equipment
Finally, WHW’s commitment to Ashanti has not stopped with serving the women and girls enrolled in its groups or programs. With the support of the American non-profit AmeriCares and WSI, WHW has now donated medicines and medical supplies and equipment to 17 area health facilities in and around Kumasi, to improve mother and child health regionwide. Transcutaneous bilimeters and phototherapy/warmer units for newborns, pregnancy tests, anti-malarials, antibiotics and medicines to stop post-partum hemorrhaging and such standard equipment as reusable speculums, forceps and sterilizing equipment are among the several thousand items distributed. A striking success was WHW’s introduction to the Pediatric Emergency Unit of Kumasi’s national teaching hospital of a new oral rehydration solution donated by AmeriCares that has proven remarkably effective with dehydrated children under-5.
The list of accomplishments goes on and on. What’s clear is that, through WHW’s innovation, expertise, outreach, awareness and the power of groups, this new organization has succeeded, in only a year, in addressing all the essential needs — for a robust education, safe and protective shelter, economic empowerment, a functioning urban environment and, before all else, their health – that will give Ashanti girls and women a fighting chance to lead successful, fruitful lives. WHW and WomenStrong International have made it our business to make sure that they have that chance.
Read more about the work and mission of Women’s Health to Wealth and the challenges it faces .