Ghanaians Doing For Home

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Nana Eyeson a bookings Editor for Essence Magazine, goes home every Christmas to visit her native country Ghana. It’s always a joyous occasion when she celebrates with her  family--but she always left with an empty feeling. She felt the need to do something more for her people.

This year, along with the help of several Ghanaian doctors based here in New York, she decided to organize a “Gift of Life Health Fair” at the St. Sylvanus Pokuase Roman Catholic School in Accra.

The Health Fair served as a means to prescreen Ghanaians for high blood pressure, diabetes and tooth decay. Some of the volunteers were Dr. Andrew Alexis a dermatologist, Dr. Ama Alexis a pediatrician, Dr. Edward Brown graduate of Harvard University, and Dr. Robert Rapaport who donated several glucose machines.  Nana Dabanka, a German translator also contributed as did Mane Annan Brown, a Vice President at J.P Morgan. The Nike company also donated 100 pairs of sneakers and 300 shirts.

Hundreds of people attended the screenings. Some 60% of the people, between the ages of 24 to 38 were diagnosed with high blood pressure and 40% with diabetes. Volunteers also did check ups on children who had early signs of tooth decay and educated them on proper ways of brushing their teeth and flossing.

With the help of one of the local doctors Dr. Cynthia Kwakye, people who were diagnosed with an illness and needed follow up examinations were able to take a form from the fair to obtain further treatment at no additional cost. "The sad thing is that many of these people are not getting regular checkups and are walking around with early stages of high blood pressure and diabetes," Eyeson, one of the organizers, explained. "The average cost to get a regular physical is about 200,000 cedies which is less
then $10 but most people cannot afford this."

The volunteers did not just screen people but also left them with valuable information on how to change their diet by eliminating unhealthy fatty foods. Eyeson who had first hand experience when her father had a heart attack several months ago, had to reeducate her cousins to prepare his food without high salt and fat content. "It is about education, and being a Ghanaian, I know that my people like their food to come out a certain way," she added.

Her father now eats less red meat and more fish. "Even with the fish Ghanaians do not always need to fry it because the oil holds too much salt in the fish," Eyeson continued. One way of reducing the fat content is to prepare the fish with a small amount of vegetable oil rather than palm oil.

Many Ghanaians eat fufu at nighttime and then go to sleep. Fufu is very heavy and can have an effect on the digestive system when eaten too. "Fufu should be eaten in the afternoon, when the body's metabolism is at its highest and can burn off the food faster," Eyeson added. Fufu is a thick paste which is made by boiling pounded starchy root vegetables in water—it can be made of yams.

Africans and African-Americans are genetically the same and high blood pressure and diabetes are leading killers of both peoples. At the health fair in Accra, women were also taught how to do self-breast examinations and what symptoms to look for.

"We see Indians, Asians and other groups of people do for home, but Ghanaians leave and
do not do for home," Eyeson continued. "There are more qualified Ghanaian doctors in the state of New York then there are in the entire country of Ghana."

She would like to see the Ghanaian government introduce programs for free health care for low income and poor families. Many people in the rural areas do not have access to the bigger hospitals such as the ones in Accra.

"All of us felt good about doing this and I hope others besides myself and the volunteers that came on this trip would be willing to go to Ghana to do this as well," she said.

She hopes the health fair is the start of something big—doing for home.

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