Friday, 15 January 2010


The past few days have been interesting.

Some fascinating moments, like the visit to Loagri, where the Bone Setter works. The Bone Setter is a traditional healer who specializes in setting broken bones. He's so renowned at bone work that people come from miles around to see him after they have an accident -- some from as far away as Accra and Lagos.

We met with the chief to explain our purpose and ask for his blessing. This is something visitors have to do in every village around these parts. You seek out the chief, who is usually perched on top of some animal skins and cushions, surrounded by some wizened-looking elders. Then you give him some money and ask for his blessing to visit households nearby. We asked if we could explore the village and learn more about the bone treatment that patients receive there. After we finished up the formalities, the chief took us to his compound -- turns out that the chief was actually the Bone Setter all along.

The process for setting bones is similar to what you'd find at a Western hospital, but with a local, supernatural twist. Although the services are free, new patients are expected to bring along a black guinea fowl when they arrive. First the Setter fixes the patient's bones so that they can heal properly, then the chief breaks the bird's bones in the same place that the patients has fractures. The Setter applies medicine (and splints) to both the guinea fowl and the person, so that they can heal together. People believe that if the bird dies in the process, then the patient will too.

I expected a small hut where occasional visitors drop by, but the chief actually deals with dozens of patients at a single time, receiving an average of one new patient per day. A long building in the center of town serves as a kind of makeshift hospital where patients rest, eat and sleep; their families often come with them to help them heal. From what I could tell, the quality of treatment looked excellent: good, wooden splints, second-hand crutches, mats with pillows, and adequate food. A few of the patients with leg-breaks were hopping around the village on crutches, looking to see what we were doing there.

The facilities there are not just for poor villagers who don't have access to government hospitals. One of the chief's patients was a man who worked for the National Health Insurance Service, and would have received free treatment at the local hospital. After he was badly injured in a motorcycle crash, he asked to be taken to Loagri instead. He said that this was because he had heard great things about the quality of the Setter's work. I was also impressed by the Bone Setter's work, and surprised that he could keep operations going on that scale with so few financial resources. Although there is technically a provision in Ghana's healthcare laws that allow the government to pay traditional healers for helping people, Loagri has never received money for the patients it takes in.

Some rewarding moments. Our team organized a stakeholders meeting in Walewale this morning. The meeting was really designed to be a workshop for the different members of the community we interviewed this week: government officials, mothers and fathers, NGO leaders, and medical workers. We had quite a good turnout -- the Bone Setter even came, so we had to set aside a sufficiently chief-worthy chair for him to sit on. We kicked off the workshop with a skit about some of the big issues facing patients in the current healthcare scheme. This prompted a near-continuous discussion about problems and solutions in local healthcare, with some spirited back-and-forth between various people and the government administrators. In the end, the various groups had a good chance to air their grievances, and we left with a long list of possible ideas to improve the operation of healthcare in the district.

And, this being Africa, there have been some funny moments. Our team needed to print out some documents for our workshops earlier this week, and my friend Nate wanted to use our hotel's printer. "Do you have a printer I could use?" he asked the manager. The manager nodded and came back two minutes later holding a printer in his hands, cord dangling by his side. "Here you go," he said, passing it to Nate.

For the skit we put on today at the meeting, we set up two little desks with pieces of paper attached to them that read "District Scheme Manager" and "District Hospital." They were a bit crude-looking but did the trick. When the actual District Manager came in to attend the meeting, he looked at the desks and went and sat down behind the fake desk at the front of the room. He was a little embarassed when we explained that it was all part of the play.

Tonight is my last night in Bolgatanga and the Upper East. Ghana is playing Cote d'Ivoire tonight in the African Cup so it's looking to be a lively old time.

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