Monday, March 12, 2012

March 12th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

This week is going to be an exciting week. This week will hopefully see a declaration of ‘unified-and-open-hostilities’ on a little acknowledged scourge of our rural communities. This week will see the First National Schistosomiasis Control Forum, (themed “Building Sustainable Partnership for Schistosomiasis Control in Ghana”), taking place at Akosombo on Wednesday (15th March). So what does that have to do with aircraft and Fresh Air Matters?

Everything! Over the past few years, teams have been quietly working to identify many communities that have, in all probability, never before been reached with education regarding Schistosomiasis as part of planned, on-going, outreach to improve the health quotient for rural dwellers.

When Professor K.M. Bosompem of the Community Directed Development Foundation and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, first made contact with me about the project I was, as usual, a little sceptical. Well, OK then, a LOT sceptical – yes, I even thought ‘naah, it will never happen, just another talking shop’. You could say I thought ‘it will never fly’. However, over the past months we have had the opportunity to work together, seeking synergies as we shared ideas and concepts across a wide range of institutions – and the thing is, that this particular initiative is not one driven by the ‘outsiders’, this is a home-desired and home-designed initiative; key to long term sustainability. As the team met and grew, VRA, GHS, IESS, NMIMR, WACIPAC, CDDF, MOM, and more alphabet soup ingredients than GSB could map, added flavour to the soup. The discussions morphed into a realistic and achievable set of stepping stones, making my heart race… ‘YES! This could fly as an idea, and as a workable outreach!’

This week, as a result of many focused efforts from many different sources, the airframe of the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative Ghana will be rolled out, with speakers sharing their vision for the reduction and potential eradication of Schistosomiasis. (Remember, Schisto is the second most socio-economically devastating parasitic infection affecting the development of Ghana.) That ‘airframe-design-work’ will be fleshed out, prepared to taxi, and will need a cast of literally thousands to meet its objectives.

There will be the air-support role (yes, my interest area), the ground attack role (nurses and health professionals on the ground, and on the water), the intelligence-gathering arm (research and monitoring), and a host of other roles for the multi-agency solution that will have life breathed into it, as a result of this week’s machinations.

Some things have become blatantly obvious in the struggle against Schistosomiasis in Ghana. Amongst those, one of the top beacons of attention grabbing realities is that, without air-support, the task is practically impossible. You simply can’t make it really happen without the air-support component. You can do a fair amount without the air-support, but you cannot achieve the goal. With regards to fighting a disease like this, failure is NOT an option. We have to win, and in the shortest possible time-frame.

Attacking a disease like Schisto is no different to attacking any challenge. You need a team, you need intelligence gathering, you need a plan and you need trained people. Above all, you need to start. Sitting around talking does not make it happen. Big announcements about ‘this, that and the other’ do not make it happen. TV interviews do not make it happen. Full-page colour ads in newspapers do not make it happen.

What makes it happen is getting out there, getting dirty, and seeing the reality, feeling the challenge seeping into your soul through your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin. Becoming imbibed with the whole – becoming a part of it… Taking that challenge on, grasping it, never letting it go, and working each day on disease suppression, its demise, and anticipating its final passing. Then stepping over it and seeking the next challenge. Making ‘Crocodile Dundee’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ look like pink fluffy stuffed toys, as we deal with the real life challenges, not the celluloid distractions that makes the multi-media boys and girls jump up-and-down with excitement.

The stark reality of most such challenges is that they are tough and complex. Whether it is an engineering challenge, a health challenge, an infrastructural development challenge, a construction challenge or simply getting the kid to school challenge – it takes a team, and it takes dedication coupled with sacrifice – and time.

I was recently asked why I stopped working with a certain international agency providing aid to Ghana. My, apparently unrelated, response shocked the question poser; ‘Do you have any children?’ He hesitantly responded, ‘a one-year old girl and a three-year old boy’. My next response visibly upset him; ‘You mean to say that you have a three year old in your house? Send him out to work. Three years is long enough for an international aid programme – it is long enough to bring up a child and send them out to work!’ He almost believed me, but then I grinned and reassured him with ‘My mother considers that I am still a work in progress...’

However, the point got across, and that is ‘most programmes and outreaches are of an inadequate, politically induced, time-frame’. Generally, political cycles dictate the development agendas. Consequently, there is the desire to complete the majority of outreach programmes within a three- to four-year project cycle. Something which no parent can relate to. You cannot take on a child and get it ready for total independence in less than twenty years (and then some!). Of course, the amount of inputs change, and the relative independence grows, but mostly projects need to be at least ten to twelve years of continued input for success to flourish.

I acknowledge openly that most of these three- to four-year projects get ‘follow-up’ or ‘sequel’ projects – but, sadly, they tend to have a hiatus in-between, and far too often team member changes. Many long-term projects in the developing nations see multiple teams coming and going over the project cycle, and each time there is a period of trust building and more ‘start-stop-start- spurt-stop-start-stop’ cycles than are good for the targeted beneficiaries of the projects.

Today the multi-team, talkshop-riddled, over-chit-chat, circular-planning, think-think-think-a-lot-tank, let’s-discuss cycle has tended to leave out the much needed ‘action-part’. With it we can see that mankind has lost its momentum, and raised the costs in financial and human terms. Take note that during the last century mankind put men and women into space, visited the moon, launched space stations, broke speed and altitude records, set standards and created a legacy. This century, 12% under-the-calendar-bridge, has seen lots of talk, many announcements but with insufficient sustained or sustainable ground breaking outcomes.

It is the fervent desire and belief of many that this week’s ‘First National Schistosomiasis Control Forum’ will not be simply an outdooring of a desire, but rather a first step on Ghana’s ladder to becoming one of the first nations to eradicate a disease by local design, desire and management – and that ranks alongside putting a man on the moon in my book!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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