Mrs Emma Wilhelmina Halm Danso, the Executive Director of Oyemam Autoimmune Foundation (OYEMAM), has called on the government to sponsor more medical students to specialize in rheumatology to bridge the gap in that specialty.
She also advocated for the establishment of lupus clinics in all the teaching hospitals in the country.
Mrs Danso made the call when she released a song of hope dubbed: ‘At the mention of your name’ to commemorate the 17th global observance of World Lupus Day in Accra.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects at least five million people worldwide. It occurs when a person’s immune system fights them and causes inflammation in different parts of the body over time.
Out of these, about 90 per cent are women and most fall within the childbearing age of 14 to 44 years.
She said the song was dedicated to all lupus warriors around the world and also dedicated to all those battling with autoimmune diseases, COVID-19 infections and different kinds of sicknesses.
Currently, there are only two rheumatologists in Ghana and the only rheumatology clinic is at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.
The Executive Director said that was inadequate for Ghana’s population of about 30 million people.
She said patients travel from different regions to Accra to attend the clinic, adding that with the hope of seeing a rheumatologist, patients go through a lot of stress, which includes travel expenses and hazards, accommodation, costs of laboratory tests and medications.
“Yet for some, they often return disappointed because they are attended to by other physicians, who are assisting due to the shortage of rheumatologists,” she added
She said with more rheumatologists ‘This will ultimately save lives by enabling quicker access to healthcare. It will also reduce pressure on physicians, patients, and the healthcare facilities.’
She expressed the hope that the call for the setting up of a national autoimmune commission to address the challenges of lupus and other autoimmune patients would be heard by leaders in authority.
She said, this year’s World Lupus Day was unique because it coincided with Mother’s Day and it was also significant that the World Health organisation declared 2020 as ‘The year of the midwife and nurse.’
Speaking on lupus and autoimmunity in Ghana, Mrs. Danso said it was important to know, where ‘we stand as a nation when it comes to the subject and set a course to address our concerns and peculiar needs.’
Being a patient herself, she stated that autoimmune patients in Ghana needed an assurance that they were not being neglected in national policy.
“Patients are equal stakeholders in Ghana’s healthcare system and as such must have a voice in all policies and regulations that impact their lives,” Mrs. Danso added.
The Executive Director, said it was, therefore, important to have a dialogue with policymakers and regulators to ensure that their voices were heard as lupus and autoimmune patients.
She stressed that lupus must be attacked from all angles; and that includes improvement in the healthcare delivery, medical research, political commitment as well as changes in cultural norms and beliefs which are not particularly helpful.
“We are requesting for lupus studies in key hospitals, improved diagnosis, and the establishment of lupus clinics in our major hospitals,” Mrs. Danso said.
She explained that flares were connected to different triggers such as infections, stress, sunlight, toxins, and chemicals among others.
“Lupus patients should be on a constant lookout for what triggers their symptoms to manage them effectively,” she added.
She said the disease affects different patients in different ways and that makes its diagnosis very difficult and it could take many years to get an accurate diagnosis.
Some of the symptoms patients experience include chronic tiredness, headaches, blood clots, organ damage, fever, skin rashes, hair loss, weight loss, memory loss, mood swings, painful and/or swollen joints.
She encouraged mothers to stay safe and be proactive with their healthcare.