Through dedication and determination, four impressive individuals have transformed the healthcare received by thousands of Ghanaians:
1) Francis Amedahe, Ph.D., a university professor and businessman;
2) Dr. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, a medical doctor and former university professor;
3) Ashifi Gogo, Ph.D., an entrepreneur;
and 4) Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, a research scientist and medical doctor.
Here are their stories:
FRANCIS KODZO AMEDAHE was born Kpoeta in Ghana’s Volta Region in 1953. Unlike most from his village he had the opportunity to receive an advanced education, including Bachelor’s and Master’s of Education Degrees from the University of Cape Coast (UCC) in Ghana, and a doctoral degree from the University of Pittsburgh in the USA.
After teaching youths as part of his National Service, Dr. Amedahe joined UCC where he moved through the ranks to become a Professor, Chair, Vice Dean, and Dean of the School of Education. For a year he also served as the President of Community University College in Takoradi, Ghana.
What makes Dr. Amedahe stand out among other academics is how he leveraged his year as a Fulbright Scholar at Elon University in the USA, to bring year round healthcare to the 10,000 people of his home town of Kpoeta. Kpoeta had no health facility of its own and its people were dying unnecessarily due to being cut off from access to the nearest clinic in Kpedze each rainy season when the dirt road connecting Kpoeta and Kpedze became impassible.
In 2007, while teaching at Elon, Dr. Amedahe began partnership with 29 undergraduates in the Ghana Class of Periclean Scholars and their faculty mentor, Dr. Heidi Frontani. The students and their mentor agreed to raised funds and educate Americans about the health challenges facing Ghanaians if Dr. Amedahe was able to make all the arrangements necessary for the construction of a clinic in Kpoeta. By late 2008 a ten-room clinic had been built and the Government of Ghana had provided the facility with a nurse.
The conditions of the partnership had been met and more than a dozen Ghana Periclean Scholars and their mentor had visited Kpoeta, but Dr. Amedahe felt that more could be done. He encouraged the students to make Kpoeta more desirable for medical staff by raising funds for the construction of clinic staff housing. Dr. Amedahe continued to make the five-hour drive every few weeks between UCC and Kpoeta to deliver building supplies and oversee the hiring of roofers, plumbers, and electricians. By May 2010, a block of two two-bedroom apartments for clinic staff had been started. A year later it was completed.
The Government of Ghana officially incorporated the Kpoeta Clinic into its network of health care facilities in 2011. It also gave the facility additional staff, began sending it regular deliveries of medical supplies and in response to Dr. Amedahe’s repeated requests, leveled, widened, and paved the dirt road between Kpoeta and Kpedze.
In 2012, Dr. Francis Amedahe and his wife Cecilia opened the Hotel Francilia in the Cape Coast area. Visitors can make a donation to the Kpoeta Clinic at the front desk. The Ghana Periclean Scholars have remained involved with the Kpoeta Clinic as alums and through new members as has Dr. Amedahe. A second block of staff housing with two one-bedroom apartments was completed by 2014.
An April 2015 study found that health problems had been notably reduced among Kpoeta’s 10,000 villagers since the clinic’s opening. Although not its official name, many in Kpoeta refer to the clinic as the “Amedahe clinic.”
OHENEBA BOACHIE-ADJEI was born in Kumasi, Ghana in 1950. Oheneba fell gravely ill when he was only six years old. He was cured by a locally-born, Western-trained physician and vowed that he too would dedicate his life to saving others. He emigrated to the USA in the early 1970s and graduated with Honors from Brooklyn College in New York in 1976 and from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons with his MD in 1980.
Dr. Boachie-Adjei went on to complete a fellowship in orthopedic pathology at the top ranked Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City. Eventually he shifted his focus to the spine sub-specialty. In 1995 he became the Chief of the Scoliosis Service at HSS and a Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. He also served as an attending surgeon at HSS and New York Presbyterian Hospital.
In 1998, Dr. Boachie-Adjei decided to bring the kinds of services that he offered to Americans to Ghanaians who had very limited access to such specialized care. He founded FOCOS (Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine) as a way to provide orthopedic care, which includes treatment of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, to the people of Ghana. For eight years, Dr. Boachie-Adjei offered his services four times per year by leading teams of volunteers from around the world to Ghana. During this time Dr. Boachie-Adjei also traveled to other parts of the world to treat patients and became a world-renowned specialist in complex spine deformities.
In 2012, Dr. Boachie-Adjei opened FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital in Ghana’s capital city, Accra. FOCOS is one of very few state-of-the-art, full service specialty hospitals in all of Africa. The FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital is equipped with two operating theaters, an outpatient clinic, laboratory, physiotherapy center, radiology center, and patient wards.
Dr. Boachie-Adjei and other donors have raised more than $16 million for FOCOS. He and those assisting him have completed more than 1,250 complex spine and joint surgeries and they have treated more than 30,000 patients. FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital is also an important teaching facility for the education of local surgeons and caregivers. Dr. Boachie-Adjei’s goal is to identify orthopedic neurosurgeons interested in pursuing the same specialty that he has and to train them. PHOTO CREDIT: focoshospitalgh.com
In mid-2014, Dr. Boachie-Adjei retired from his private practice at HSS and fulfilled his goal of returning to Ghana. He currently serves as the Chief Surgeon at the FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital. Dr. Boachie-Adjei remains President of the FOCOS USA Board of Directors and intends to return to HSS as needed to treat patients in the USA.
Dr. Boachie-Adjei is the recipient of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons’ Humanitarian Award, the Science and Peace Gold Medal from Albert Schweitzer International University, and the Wholeness Life Award from the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). He was featured in 2006 on the Discovery Channel documentary “Surgery Saved My Life” and, in 2015, on CNN’s African Voices.
ASHIFI GOGO didn’t know when he was growing up that he was going to make an important difference in the world. He was leading a relatively ordinary life throughout his early years. He graduated from high school and hoped to attend university, but a strike by university professors had created a backlog of students. Mr. Gogo was going to have to wait two years before he would be able to apply for college in Ghana.
One day some of Mr. Gogo’s friends decided to take the US college admissions test known as the SAT. Mr. Gogo went along with them and did quite well on the test thereby securing a full scholarship to attend Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington in the USA. Mr. Gogo graduated with Bachelor’s Degrees in Math and Physics and then succeeded in obtaining full scholarships to obtain his Master’s Degree and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the prestigious Dartmouth College in the US.
In 2009, while still in graduate school, Mr. Gogo heard some disturbing news—84 infants had died in Nigeria from ingesting tainted teething syrup. Mr. Gogo believed that there must be some way to prevent such unnecessary deaths from fake or tainted medications, which are estimated to account for 10 to 30 percent of all drugs available in poorer and middle-income countries (compared to less than 1 percent in industrialized countries). Using the entrepreneurial skills he gained as an Innovation Program Fellow while a Ph.D. student in Dartmouth’s Engineering School, Mr. Gogo launched Sproxil. Sproxil is a cell-phone based drug-authentication company. In early 2010, Nigeria was Sproxil’s first client. PHOTO CREDIT: Jon Gilbert Fox
Sproxil uses a Mobile Product Authentication (MPA™) solution that lets customers scratch-and-text a code off of a drug label that is unique to that item and to receive an instant text response informing them whether the drug is real or fake. If the customer learns the product is counterfeit he or she is given information on how to report the medication to the authorities. More importantly the customer knows not to use the product, thereby potentially saving a life.
By late 2011, several major drug distributors including GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck were employing Sproxil’s services and over 400,000 consumers in Nigeria had sent in texts to verify a drug’s authenticity. Since then Dr. Gogo has brought Sproxil’s services to Ghana and thanks to $1.8 million in funding from the Acumen Fund, Sproxil also has been able to expand its services to India.
In 2012, the cell phone provider Airtel announced support for Sproxil’s services such that users would not be charged for any text message based drug verifications. To date, Sproxil has processed over 14 million verifications from consumers.
Spoxil’s success and impact has led to accolades for Dr. Gogo. In 2009, Dr. Gogo was recognized with an Outstanding Commitment Award in Global Health by the Clinton Global Initiative. In 2013, the White House named Dr. Gogo an Immigrant Innovator Champion of Change and in 2014 the Schwab Foundation named him a Social Entrepreneur of the Year. Dr. Gogo and Sproxil have been featured in The Guardian, through TEDx, and by Reuters.
SEISAKU “HIDEYO” NOGUCHI was born in Inawashiro, Japan in 1876. As a one and a half year old he fell into a fireplace and badly burned his left hand. Due to generous contributions from his teacher and friends, Hideyo was able to have his hand undergo surgery and regain approximately 70 percent of its functionality. Consequently, Hideyo decided to become a doctor and to help those in need. Mr. Noguchi entered Saisei Gakusha, later Nippon Medical School, where he showed signs of great talent and in 1897, at the age of 20, passed the examinations to practice medicine.
In 1900, Dr. Noguchi moved to the USA where he became a research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania and later at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research, now Rockefeller University, in New York City. In 1913, Dr. Noguchi had his first major success in medical research when he demonstrated that the presence of a particular sub-species of bacterium was the cause of syphilis in humans.
By 1918, Dr. Noguchi was traveling extensively and conducting research on diseases on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Board. He also tried to develop a vaccine for yellow fever which did not work on that disease, but was later used successfully to treat leptospirosis. Dr. Noguchi also found that snake venom could be used in serums and he identified the pathogens that cause the diseases leishmaniasis and Carrion’s disease (Oroya fever). Dr. Noguchi received knighthoods and was awarded several honorary doctorate degrees.
In September 1927, Dr. Noguchi traveled to a Rockefeller Foundation-funded laboratory in Nigeria and then to the British Medical Research Institute in Accra to assist with their yellow fever research. Dr. Noguchi was set to return to the USA in May 1928, but fell ill and died in Accra of yellow fever at the age of 51 some days later. His death would eventually be of considerable importance to Ghana.
With funds donated by the Japanese, in 1979, the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research (NMIMR) was founded as a semi-autonomous institute at the University of Ghana. The NMIMR (Noguchi Institute) has become the leading biomedical research facility in Ghana. Its departments include: virology, bacteriology, clinical pathology, immunology, electron microscopy, nutrition, parasitology, animal experimentation, and epidemiology. NMIMR supports research on national health priorities and serves as a National HIV Drug Resistance Genotyping Laboratory, a National Influenza Center, Cancer Center, and World Health Organization Polio Regional Reference Laboratory.
The Noguchi Institute also serves as an important training ground for biomedical scientists. The high quality of NMIMR scientists has attracted funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a Postdoctoral Fellowship Program to train future leaders in research who will contribute to infectious diseases control efforts. Specifically the Fellowships will support research on malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and parasitic worm infections.
In 2006, the 80th anniversary of Dr. Noguchi’s death, the Japanese Government established the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize to recognize individuals with outstanding achievements in combating infectious diseases in Africa or in establishing innovative medical service systems. The Prize comes with a cash award of over US $1 million and is given every five years.
All four of the men featured made a lasting difference because they identified a problem and set out to devise a specific plan to fix it. They share the traits of curiosity and tenacity, and a belief that they can make a positive difference. All were willing to work hard and over the long term to see their efforts through.
Dr. Amedahe has gone a long way toward solving Kpoeta’s healthcare crisis. Dr. Boachie-Adjei’s world class FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital serves not only Ghanaians, but patients from across the continent seeking specialized surgery and care. Dr. Gogo’s scratch-and-text technology is helping to reduce the approximately 700,000 deaths that occur annually worldwide from ingesting fake drugs. Dr. Noguchi, although he never knew it, left an important legacy in Ghana and his colleague, South African Max Theiler, succeeded in producing a successful yellow fever vaccine and was awarded the Nobel Prize for it.
All four men have served as the inspiration for others. If you enjoy uplifting and inspiring stories, visit my African Development Successes blog, where you will find out more about each of the men featured in this piece along with dozens of other stories of successful change makers.