Tropical medicine excursion for healthcare professionals
TROPMEDEX Ghana 2014
Professional development for healthcare providers in the field of clinical tropical medicine and travel
health is becoming increasingly important. There are now over 1 billion international tourist arrivals
around the world each year and 8.9 million short term resident departures from Australia
Increasingly, tourists are travelling to tropical and subtropical regions with known risk of
exposure to infectious diseases, yet studies have indicated that only about 40% of Australians seek
pre-travel advice from a health professional.
Approximately 13,000 refugees migrate to Australia
annually from Asia, the Middle East and Africa, a proportion of whom present with a variety of
infectious diseases.
Patient-focussed educational programs delivered in health care facilities in
endemic regions provide an invaluable opportunity for developing the necessary travel and tropical
medicine skills required in Australian clinical practice.
One such program held in Sub-Saharan Africa is TROPMEDEX (Tropical Medicine Excursions), led by
Dr Kay Schaefer (MD, PhD, MSc, DTM&H), a German consultant in Tropical Medicine and Travellers’
Health. Over the last 20 years, he has organised 45 Tropical Medicine excursions for over 450
international healthcare professionals to Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and recently Ghana. In
collaboration with leading university teaching hospitals and medical institutions in Africa, Dr
Schaefer and local experts provide on-site bedside teaching, give lectures, and lead laboratory
sessions. The program encompasses epidemiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, treatment,
prevention and control of Africa’s most significant infectious diseases.
Initially a TROPMEDEX Uganda 2013 participant, the author of this article returned to Africa as a
participant of the TROPMEDEX Ghana 2014 excursion, joining 10 medical colleagues from Austria,
Canada, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America. The 11 day round-trip in
Ghana began in the capital Accra, proceeded to the Volta region, continued on to Kumasi, home of
the Ashanti Kingdom, and via Cape Coast returned to Accra. This covered approximately 1200km on
bitumen roads in an air-conditioned minibus, driven by an experienced local driver.
Dr Schaefer’s opening lecture was dedicated to the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West
Africa. Multiple factors contributed to the rapid spread and high mortality rate in resource-poor
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, including poor preparation for a newly introduced infectious
disease, highly porous interconnected borders, dense populations, complicated contact tracing,
traditional burial practices, and damaged health infrastructure due to decades of conflict. One of the
participants also presented her experiences in Liberia during the EVD epidemic. Ghana has never
experienced a case of EVD, however high alertness was evident. On the road to a sophisticated
laboratory capable of diagnosing EVD in the Greater Accra area, large billboards displayed
information about the prevention and control of Ebola.
After a morning lecture on schistosomiasis, we
drove to Akosombo. Since the creation of
Akosombo Dam and Lake Volta, schistosomiasis
haematobium has been widespread in the Volta
region, being particularly prevalent in school-aged
children. During a boat ride on the Volta River, we
visited a fishing village and came to appreciate the
challenges involved in prevention and control of
schistosomiasis in this region.