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12/17/2010

The waiting room

Trust hospital test tubes

Falling ill in Ghana is often accompanied by fears of contracting malaria, which accounts for one in five childhood deaths in the country. Photo by Antoinette Sarpong. 

By Antoinette Sarpong

This is a first. I’m sitting in a hospital lab in Accra, being serenaded by Bollywood music on the radio at 9 a.m. I made it four months in Ghana without visiting an emergency room, but the headache and fever that I went to sleep with the night before were there to greet me the next morning. They were accompanied by abdominal pain and two marble-like lumps in my pelvic area, where no lumps had previously been before. I felt dizzy and disoriented, like being all too present in a hot, sweaty, lucid dream.

Like me, my roommate, upon hearing my symptoms and seeing my general state of confusion, seemed to think that malaria could be the bandit behind my missing bill of health. It was with good reason. I stopped taking my anti-malarial meds a few weeks ago. So here I am, at one of Accra’s more reputable hospitals as a male lab tech drew my blood. I clenched my left fist and turned away as he inserted a needle into a welcoming vein. I’m not a fan of needles, and I really dislike the surgical glove stench of hospitals.

“Are you crying?” asked the lab tech.

‘No,” I replied, rather disappointed by his callous bedside manner. “It’s sweat.”

“Oh, ok,” he said. “Go to the waiting room, I’ll call you.”

I paid 19 cedis ($13 CAD) for my consultation with the doctor, 38 cedis ($26.75 CAD) for the lab tests, and would later fork out 65 cedis ($46 CAD) at the pharmacy. It’s no wonder, at these prices, that many Ghanaians cannot seek medical treatment for malaria, a disease which is responsible for one in every five childhood deaths in Ghana. Ghana’s Health Minister, Dr. Ben Kunbuor, has even noted malaria’s strain on the economy. Fighting the disease accounts for one third of the national health budget. Combating malaria, one of the eight UN Millennium Development Goals, is likely to be unmet by the 2015 deadline, according to the United Nations Development Programme, unless more effort is made to focus on preventative care.

Sitting in a waiting room, knowing that the average Ghanaian suffers from two to three bouts of malaria a year, I began wondering about the ailments of the dozen or so people around me. It was somewhat of a relief, around 5 p.m., when a doctor told me that I had a urinary tract infection.

After several days of bed rest, pills and cranberry juice, life continued as usual. Giggling kids in school uniforms ran by me, on my way to work. Familiar faces in the neighbourhood waved as I passed. Even a lone hen added life to the scenery as it clucked its way across the road. That was until a sedan barreled into it. I guess this chicken crossed the road to cross over to the other side.

It was another reminder of why it’s so important to take time to relax and enjoy life, as Ghanaians so often do. Life can be hard, anywhere, really. But I’m always reminded of how meaningful each breath is when I get sick because I realize that it can be taken away so quickly—by a battered old sedan or a mosquito’s stealth sting.

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Africa Without Maps


  • There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

    Funding for the jhr bloggers is provided by the Government of Canada's Youth International Internship Program.

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