August 1, 2011

Update from Ghana

Rebecca Distler, GHLI Student Fellow
July 2011

It is amazing how quickly a month has flown by here. Work is going really well; my time in Ghana has given me a chance to explore health policy first hand. This experience has completely changed my view on what my potential role could be in this field. One of the most exciting things with which I’ve been involved is the development of a new policy that I collaborated on with Dr. Ofori-Atta. When I was initially tasked with researching mental health in South Africa, a particular challenge was to locate in-service training modules that could be adapted for Ghana. I came across a WHO report that said that in South Africa, all psychologists (and other health personnel) are required to do a year of community service in the districts. I asked Dr. Ofori-Atta if it would be possible for Ghana to implement a similar program and discovered that undergraduate students were required to complete a year of national service upon graduating from university. Dr. Ofori-Atta and I began creating a policy where the students in the community psychology course at the University of Ghana are required to spend their year of national service doing basic psycho-social work in the districts.

I’ve since been involved in many meetings with the directors of human resources in both the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service, the head of the psychology department at the University of Ghana, and the directors of Basic Needs and of the Mental Health Society of Ghana. I am not only excited to have so much responsibility, but also am pleased with the enthusiastic responses we have already received. I am quickly realizing that this has been my favorite part of my work here -- meeting with the different stakeholders, gathering opinions and suggestions and using them to tweak the policy as we move along.

The policy-making process has given me a much deeper understanding of how important knowing local culture is to making policies. And, the fact that letters are can be crucial in this work -- I will need a letter from every person I talk to, confirming their support for this initiative. With so much momentum going, I am so sad that I only have two weeks left here, but plan to make the best use of the time!

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