A Son of Ghana Returns

A Son of Ghana Returns

With more than a million frequent-flyer miles to his credit, Kofi Gyan arguably lives not in the United States or his native Ghana—the two countries where he spends most of his time—but somewhere in the air between them. That’s because Gyan, MPH ’96, is on a mission to improve the health system of his homeland and the health of his fellow Ghanaians. As program manager for all UM health-related programs in Ghana, he’s uniquely able to do both.

Gyan is especially keen to help lift the burden of infant and maternal mortality in Ghana. The problem is particularly severe in rural areas, where physicians and medical facilities are scarce, and women often can’t get the help they need for conditions like eclampsia and postpartum hemorraghing. In parts of the country there is just one doctor for a population of 200,000, says Gyan, who is collaborating with the UM Center for Global Health and SPH Associate Professor Rachel Snow on a Gates Foundation grant to increase the number of doctors in rural Ghana. Gyan also works closely with Tim Johnson, chair of the UM Medical School’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and other UM medical faculty and students to help train physicians, midwives, and medical personnel in Ghana.

“Any given year, I live about six months in Ghana and six months in the U.S.,” Gyan says. “I help Ghana more this way than if I lived there. Right now two UM emergency medicine doctors are in Ghana training eight Ghana doctors. Family medicine physicians have been to Ghana three times—also physical medicine doctors and orthopedic surgeons. Faculty and students ask lots of questions before they go over. I tell them who to see. I make things happen, more or less. I tell them to forget about your morning hot shower and this Internet on demand—because you won’t get all those things. What UM faculty and students take away from Ghana is how privileged they are. They also learn a lot, because a lot of the things they see there they never see here. Like eclampsia—you never see it. And infectious disease. The number one cause of death for children in the U.S. is injury. But where I’m from it’s not injury, it’s infectious disease.