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WSU professor organizes program to save lives in Ghana

WSU professor Lisa Trujillo says her team is helping train Ghana medical professionals to use new equipment for premature infants
WSU professor Lisa Trujillo says her team is helping train Ghana medical professionals to use new equipment for premature infants
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(KUTV) A Weber State University professor and her students are trying to save the lives of millions of people living in Ghana.

In the west African country, respiratory infection is the number one cause of death – according to a CDC report in 2012 - above strokes and even malaria.

In 2012, more than 22,000 people died from lower respiratory infections in Ghana. 2012 is the most recent data available from the CDC for Ghana mortality rates.

But why is lower respiratory infection so bad in Ghana?

“The numbers are staggering. They probably have maybe 1 physician for every 10,000 or so patients,” explained WSU associate professor Lisa Trujillo.

Trujillo has visited Ghana more than 20 times – organizing health clinics and teaching programs in parts of the country over the last few years.

She started traveling to Ghana after one of her students at WSU, who is from Ghana, told her about the need and asked if she would visit and teach there.

“I knew it would take some time to plan a trip of that nature. So I planned for the full next year and in the spring of 2006 we made our first trip,” Trujillo said. “I was able to take my husband and children and 7 Weber State students with me at that time.”

That trip was just the beginning – an eye opening experience for Trujillo.

“We see a lot of patients who suffer from pneumonia. Quite often they put off getting care because they can't afford care until they're very sick and they finally go in, and sometimes it's too late,” Trujillo explained.

Many Ghana nationals cook over a coal burning stove in enclosed huts – making their air quality even worse. And with few doctors and nurses available, many people don’t get the help they need until it’s too late.

Trujillo started bringing Weber State University students to Ghana – opening clinics and offering health care services. But she realized more needed to be done.

“Simple things like how you manage an infant that is born prematurely, how you provide for their oxygen and ventilation needs. Mortality rates are quite high,” she explained.

Trujillo organized a new degree program in Ghana where national students can study respiratory therapy.

“To think that... we can provide a curriculum and an education program that will allow the people of Ghana to provide more services for their community, is pretty powerful,” she said.

Her students have been moved as well, including first year WSU respiratory therapy student Kavy Chanthavong.

“The experience is just unreal,” he said. “You could tell that the people were just in need.”

Fellow student Truman Konesavanh says he hopes this new program will make a big difference for Ghana locals.

“I think as long as you can educate people on certain dangers, you can prevent certain dangers from arising,” he said.

Trujillo believes over time that these new health care professionals will change the future.

Trujillo and her group of students work with a non-profit organization, Charity Beyond Borders, to provide medical, educational and humanitarian support in Ghana. The group is trying to raise funds to continue that work in Ghana.

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