Hey all! Akwaaba!

31 July 2013

In the first of a series of updates from Ghana, Marta Caballero, a London and South East Branch committee member and Ewa Karczewska - both recent Physics and Medical Physics graduates from UCL - report on an IOP funded physics outreach project.

We are two recent Physics and Medical Physics graduates from UCL. Let’s first let you all know how we came across the idea of doing this project...

Our Medical Physics Educational and Outreach Project in Ghana is funded by the Institute of Physics and was inspired by UCL’s ‘paRTner’ initiative, a collaboration between UCL and two cancer centres in Ghana to train radiotherapists in West Africa.

The country of Ghana is currently only able to treat a few percent of all patients needing radiotherapy each year, and this is not only due to a lack of trained personnel and equipment, but also low cancer awareness and a general lack of knowledge about Medical Physics and Radiotherapy. 

A lot of paRTner’s efforts are currently focusing on training radiotherapists on site, but we found a need to focus more on educating the general population about the life-saving potential of Radiotherapy. The quality of secondary education in Ghana is low, and several education policy goals focus on improving the quality of teaching Science, in particular Maths and Physics. At a university level, Physics graduates are unaware of opportunities to pursue careers in Medical Physics and Radiotherapy.

There is a need to increase the number of students interested in this field. In collaboration with the Ghana Society for Medical Physics, we hope to deliver a series of lectures to secondary school and university students about Physics and future careers in Medical Physics. We will also promote the IOP network and the support it can provide for its members throughout their career development.

After nearly 20 hours flying around the world, we arrived to Accra International Airport at 12 pm on Friday, where Jamal, founder and president of the Dream Africa Care Foundation, was waiting to pick us up. The Dream Africa Care Foundation supports sustainable development initiatives in Ghana, has two orphanages in the country and supports teaching in several primary and secondary schools in Accra.

We are staying at a volunteer house outside Accra with 17 other volunteers from the UK, Austria, Spain and the US. They are a great group of young people that are teaching in several local schools, nursing in care centres and hospitals or coaching football teams. Most of them have been in Ghana for over a month, and love the sense of community in the volunteer house and Dream Africa Orphanage.

Our new home is simple and relatively clean, has running water (at least most of the time and only if it’s rained enough during the week), and everyone is expected to help and contribute with house chores. We’ve been very lucky to come across this organization! Through meeting them all, we’ve already gained great insight into the educational and healthcare system in Ghana.

Several of us were also taken on an orientation day in Accra yesterday. It was an incredible and very eye-opening first day in the country. We took a tro-tro (local bus) to the city centre, walked around Accra’s lively food market, and drove on a motorcycle through one of the city’s biggest slum. It was definitely an experience to see how people, vehicles and cattle all share the same space in the city streets. What an overwhelming but unique experience!

We are now working on our presentation for the Ghana Society for Medical Physics tomorrow morning. We will be meeting representatives from the Society and Medical Physics Department at the University of Accra. We are keen to share our ideas with them, but are mostly interested in hearing how they believe we can contribute the most to establish active links with the IOP and UCL’s Medical Physics Department. We will keep you all posted!