Ghana Blog: “My reward will be in heaven.”

July 6th, 2017

This week, I was grateful to shadow nurses and doctors of different specialties at the Princess Marie Louise Hospital in Accra. While all my experiences told a story of medicine, one in particular portrayed a story of humanity. I spent Wednesday with Aunty Serwah, the head nurse of the “Retro Clinic.” Besides being an intelligent, professional nurse, she was also one of the kindest and most passionate individuals I have met on this trip. She was everyone’s unofficial “Aunty,” and she never met a stranger. She took me in and taught me all about “Retro,” or HIV, prevalence here in Ghana. Additionally, she showed me how to test for HIV and I even got to practice on a few patients and myself. We chatted often while waiting for patients to trickle in, giving her ample time to answer my ample questions. Most she answered with ease, however, there was one that stopped her in her tracks: “Are you scared of contracting HIV?” After pondering for a moment, she replied, “Yes, but I chose this job. I have to do this work, and if I die from it, my reward will be in heaven.”

Her strength and willingness to serve others was incredible. While she tested and cared for patients daily, she said most of her work actually stems from debunking the HIV stigma. In Ghana, many people believe that HIV infection comes only with promiscuity, they don’t know about other forms of transmission, such as that between mother and child. The clinicians had to rename the HIV clinic the “Retro” (a.k.a. retrovirus) clinic just so that people nearby wouldn’t judge the patients. The backlash to an HIV diagnosis is so severe here even husbands and wives won’t disclose their status to one another, further perpetuating the problem. I must admit, I also found myself acting differently around the patients that came to the clinic. I was quiet and extremely cautious around them until their test came back negative. I can certainly see how those suffering from HIV would feel ostracized, even from those aiming to help. Thankfully, there are some public health initiatives in place with the ultimate mission of breaking the stigma and testing a larger portion of the population. Aunty Serwah emphasized the importance of implementing HIV lessons into school health classes as well, though she mentioned this will take longer to roll out. I pray that the community here, and even in the U.S., learns to respect one another regardless of HIV status, so that individuals can get tested without inhibition. I also pray for the Aunty Serwah’s of the world, and hope that one day I can emulate her as well.

-Liana Mosley-

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