Last few days in Ghana!

29 August 2013

After experiencing three hours of traffic to cross Accra on a Wednesday morning, we arrived to the School of Applied Sciences of the University of Ghana at 10 am to deliver our talk about ‘Obtaining Medical Physics Research Experience in the UK.’

Most of the students present we had met during the last session, but it was encouraging to see several new faces in the room.

Although many MPhil students had shown interest in pursuing PhDs in the UK when we first met them, the difficulty is funding as it is prohibitively expensive for many of them (not just the fees, also the living expenses). But, and most importantly, we strongly believe that our role is to work with and support Ghanaian universities and help them reach a higher level, rather than UK universities taking the best students away from them. Bringing some students to the UK would help a small number of individuals but is not in the interest of the development of radiotherapy in Ghana , which is for us the overall aim.

We therefore decided to slightly adjust the focus of our talk. As had been requested, we definitely addressed PhD applications and funding, but we also emphasized the possibility of obtaining PhD co-supervision from willing professors in UK universities. This should also lead to possibilities for students to come to the UK for short periods of time and gain access to equipment, facilities and resources that might not be available locally. The Medical Physics Department at UCL, as part of the paRTner initiative, is very willing to offer supervisory support free of charge for students registered at a local university in Ghana.

We learnt from the students, however, that it is even difficult for most of them to consider PhDs in Ghana, where yearly tuition is 4000 USD on top of having to fund their own resources and equipment. Several other students, however, showed interest in the possibility of obtaining work experience in the clinical setting in the UK. Awaiting the arrival of a new LINAC machine at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, MPhil Medical Physics students are eager to obtain short-term clinical work experience and acquire skills that they can then apply at Korle Bu. Our presentation was followed by a more informal Q&A session, during which we developed some action points for the next couple of months:

  1. Research the possibility for international student to do Medical Physics clinical internships in the UK
  2. Investigate the possibility of funding one Ghanaian PhD student in the UK through a project/research grant.
  3. Investigate how to ease the process of Ghanaian students finding co-supervisors in the UK.

We also gave Ghanaian students links to valuable online resources and encouraged them to search for research opportunities of interest, contact potential co-supervisors, and correspond with us during the next couple of months.

After our presentation, we had been arranged a meeting with Prof. John Justice Fletcher, who will soon be involved in running the Ghana Institute of Physics. The IOP has already been active at a secondary education level and established a Physics and Electronics Centre at Ada, a town in the Volta region of Ghana.

Prof Fletcher’s team will soon be inaugurating an IOP Centre at the University in Accra, where he believes there is “the highest density of physicists in West Africa”. He is a very inspirational man, and is actively involved in several outreach initiatives to improve the way Physics is taught in secondary schools across the country. He is also a firm believer in bridging the gap between education and business and in opening a Medical Imaging Centre capable of attracting foreign investment in Accra.

To finish off our day, a couple of students drove us to the only private cancer centre in the country, the Sweden Ghana Medical Centre (SGMC). SGMC is managed by a team of 50 specialists from Ghana and Sweden. Most MPhil Medical Physics students from the University of Ghana get clinical internships at SGMC, and some of them get offers of employment after finishing their studies. They feel truly privileged of working in such a modern, clean and relaxed environment. SGMC uses state-of-the art equipment, including a modern LINAC device, MRI and CT for imaging, and computerized treatment planning systems.

In some ways, stepping inside SGMC made us feel like we escaped Africa for a couple of hours. The interns explained to us that although cancer treatments are a lot cheaper than the equivalent would be in Europe, they are still not affordable for most Ghanaian families, and SGMC currently only treats 20 patients daily. The reality of cancer treatments in West Africa is far from what we saw at SGMC.

Having learnt more than we could have ever imagined, having met incredible and inspiring people, and full of ideas, we are now on our way back to London. Our time in Ghana might have come to an end, but this partnership and collaboration has certainly just begun!