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Volunteers crucial at Ghana medical center

NALERIGU, Ghana (BP)–Villagers line up outside the Baptist Medical Centre in northern Ghana as soon as the sun peeks over the mountains of this mud-hut town.

A baby sweating with malaria fever. A woman with a cough that could be tuberculosis. A farmer bitten by a cobra in the fields. Hypertension, hernias, tumors — just a few of the ailments among the 600 patients waiting on the outpatient porch.

“Looks like it’s going to be another long day,” says missionary doctor George Faile III, one of only two doctors on staff at the hospital, which was founded 50 years ago by the International Mission Board.

Faile says the hospital could use more hands to help cover the patient load.

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According to the World Health Organization, the United States has about one doctor for every 400 people. Ghana has about one doctor for every 6,600 people. Even then, the Ghanaian doctors tend to stay in the more developed areas of the country instead of villages like Nalerigu.

The medical center regularly recruits doctors, residents and fourth-year medical students to volunteer as little as two weeks or as long as a year. Nearly 200 came in 2008, but the hospital needs even more.

“They really help us manage the load,” Faile said. “Even though a lot of them are students or residents, they are able to help us see patients in clinics and take calls at night. They also do rounds and some of the minor procedures.”

The IMB offers a Medical Receptor program for medical residents and fourth-year medical students who want to offer their services overseas. The program covers nearly all costs for those who are active in a Southern Baptist church and agree to serve eight to 12 weeks.

That sounded perfect to Heidi Haun, a member of Seminole First Baptist Church in Florida and a fourth-year surgical student who is considering a call to missions. Before she headed to Ghana, she attended a Baptist Global Medical Alliance conference sponsored by the IMB. The gathering offers Southern Baptist medical professionals an opportunity to discuss becoming volunteers with medical missionaries from all over the world.

“I thought that if I am planning on pursuing a career in medical missions, this was a great way to get my feet wet and to reconfirm my passion,” said Haun, who came to Ghana for 12 weeks with her husband and child.

During her stint at the hospital, Haun treated snake bites that would have resulted in death without anti-snake venom. She cleaned abdomens perforated by advanced typhoid. When she diagnosed patients with terminal cancer, she shared about eternal hope in Christ.

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Moments like those helped confirm Haun’s calling.

“I remember walking back to my house from the hospital one night and thinking, ‘I could feel at home here.'”

That blend of medical and spiritual treatment is a unique draw to the hospital.

“We’re unlimited in how we can approach patients spiritually,” said Earl Hewitt, the other doctor on staff at the hospital. “In the States, you might not be able to present the Gospel. That might be considered infringing on patients’ rights. Here, we are free to [talk about Jesus], and we do it as often as we can.”

Haun enjoyed praying with patients before every surgery. Julie Myhren, a fourth-year pharmacy student who attends Oak Grove Baptist Church in Bel Air, Md., was invited to lead the daily devotional for hospital staff and patients. Myhren volunteered for 12 weeks at the Ghana hospital.

And William Prine, who has been practicing medicine in Clarksville, Tenn., for 34 years, had a unique opportunity to share Christ during his two weeks in Nalerigu.

A patient who had broken his leg weeks before — and did not seek medical attention — finally came to the doctor when infection set in.

Prine, who attends First Baptist Church in Clarksville, noticed the man needed blood. Prine’s blood type was a match.

He gave his own blood and took the opportunity to tell the man about Jesus Christ, the ultimate blood donor.

“I began talking to the man by acknowledging that I had given him blood to prolong his physical life,” Prine said. “I then told him I wanted to tell him about the blood Jesus had shed for him.”

The man prayed the sinner’s prayer and received Jesus as Lord and Savior. The next day, he asked Prine for a Bible.

“I have never felt so in the presence of God as during my time in Nalerigu,” Prine said. “I want to see more volunteers there. They need two other doctors there 52 weeks of the year.”

The Baptist Medical Centre always is in need of short-term doctors, residents and fourth-year medical students of various specialties to help treat patients. For more information, e-mail mamprusi_hmt@yahoo.com.
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Emily Peters is a regional writer covering West Africa for the International Mission Board. For more information on the Medical Receptor program, e-mail StudentTeam@imb.org or call the student mobilization team at 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1363.