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Opinions of Saturday, 5 January 2002

Columnist: Press

Rockmart doctor recalls Ghana trip

by Amy Knowles (Cedartown Standard)

Practicing medicine in Ghana requires a doctor to become a “jack of all trades” said Cynthia Shumpert, a Rockmart physician.

Shumpert learned of that requirement while practicing medicine there in March of 1998. She cited Dr. George Faile III, son of the founder of Baptist Medical Centre located in West Africa as an example. The hospital, founded in 1958, currently receives a significant portion of its funding from the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Church. “George is a family practice physician who does a little of everything there, including sur-gery when necessary,” said Shumpert. With just three doctors on the staff handling the 100-bed facility (which usually houses 150 to 170 patients) and its outpatient clinic, volunteers are needed to give the medical staff a helping hand and sometimes a much needed break.

During a 1997 meningitis epidemic, only two doctors and four physician assistants were available to care for up to 800 patients at the clinic each day. “The army had to set up tents in the grass” for the patients to stay in while being treated at the center, said Shumpert, remembering a letter Dr. Faile had written to her during the epidemic. By the time she received the letter about the epidemic, the crisis had passed, she said. She and her husband Paul Shumpert, both family practice physicians, met Dr. Faile during their residencies at Floyd Medical Center in 1987. Through continued contact with Dr. Faile, they learned about the need for doctors and other medical personnel at the facility.

She and Paul have each made one mission trip over the past four years, with Paul planning a trip for May, 2002 and her next trip for 2003.

“It’s difficult for us to take the time away from the practice,” said Shumpert, who shares a practice in Rockmart with her husband. “And a person really needs to stay there at least three weeks to adjust to practicing an entirely different kind of medicine.” She cited malaria and typhoid as just two of the diseases which are common in Ghana, but are rare for a doctor in the U.S. to have to treat. Shumpert said one of the major hurdles to volunteering is the travel time. “It takes three days to get there, and three days back travel time. You fly in and arrive at the capital and spend a day at the foundation’s guesthouse just filling out paperwork. Then you have a 15-hour drive for 200 miles to get to the hospital.

Most roads are unpaved, in bad shape,” she said. Expense is another hurdle. Volunteers must pay their own way. “I was lucky when I went in 1998, I found airfare for $1,000 round-trip. That, with living expenses for one month, came to about $2,000 total for the trip,” said Shumpert. Which, she added, is about what one might pay for a cruise to the Bahamas.

“The cost of living there is very low. One of our dollars is equal to about 7,100 cedi’s — their currency,” explained Shumpert. “We are able to rent a house from the foundation for about $3 a day. It’s like an American house, with plumbing and electricity. But no air conditioning.” With temperatures soaring into the 100s in March, that is a convenience some Americans might miss. Shumpert also said the houses have water filters, “but I took bottled water to the hospital,” she added, to avoid intestinal distress. “I’ve only had E. coli once.”

As far as sending supplies, she said that isn’t a viable way to help the people. “The items are taxed full value or more. Once the BMC missionaries received a box of toiletries and candy. The people here probably paid $50 for everything in it. But the center was charged $250 in import taxes before they could receive it.”

Money, however, is a welcome help. Especially since the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Church voted two years ago to begin to withdraw funding from the hospital over the next 10 years, hoping it can become self-supporting. While the hospital only needs around $400,000 to $700,000 to operate, said Shumpert, the physicians who have worked there don’t feel it’s possible for the facility to become self-supporting. This is why several individuals from the Rome area have started the George Faile Foundation Inc. to help. They speak at businesses and church groups, telling about the hospital in hopes of raising funds. They also solicit donations through their Web site: FaileFoundation.org, and are learning how to apply for grants. “I don’t know what the people would do without the hospital” should it close, she added. Shumpert said medical personnel other than doctors are also welcome. “We had a physical therapist who came who was a huge help,” said Shumpert. And she related how the hospital’s X-ray technician, a Ghana national, has to read the machine’s instruction book as he performs X-rays. “He does a good job, but you want to catch him early in the day, before he has too much to drink,” she said with a smile.

Shumpert said she and her husband hope to eventually be able to donate 50 percent of their time to medical mission work each year. “You begin to realize how much we have in this country,” she said. “There is so much they need, you just feel inadequate. But the people are so grateful for whatever you do.”

FAILE FOUNDATION

Contributions may be sent to: The George Faile Foundation P.O. Box 542, Cave Spring, GA 30124 The foundation is looking for monetary contributions, medical and evangalistical volunteers.