Photo: Professor Bronwyn Davidson and many of the Ghanaian Masters students at the University of Ghana.
Can you imagine having only seven speech pathologists to provide services to the whole population of Australia? For families in Ghana, that is their reality.
Australian speech pathologists are assisting their Ghanaian counterparts to shift the landscape for people with communication and swallowing difficulties.
Communication and swallowing difficulties present enormous challenges to individuals and their families. These challenges are magnified a thousand-fold in a country such as Ghana, where services for communication and swallowing difficulties are extremely rare. In Ghana, there is a team of speech pathologists working hard to make the needed changes and improve services. The Australian Government and Australian speech pathologists are providing small but meaningful contributions to this change, which will slowly help to shift the landscape for people with communication and swallowing difficulties in Ghana.
Can you imagine having only seven speech pathologists to provide services to the whole population of Australia? For families in Ghana, that is their reality. Finding a speech pathologist, or any type of service for communication difficulties, is extremely difficult. Families travel enormous distances for services. At present there are seven speech pathologists in the country, providing services to a population of 25 million people. Only three of these speech pathologists are Ghanaian, trained in London. The remainder are foreigners, living and working in Ghana for various reasons, commonly on short placements of one year or less.
In response to the need for improved services for communication disability, Ghana has slowly been investing in the development of the SLT profession. How to best start local training for speech pathology has been the topic of discussion in Ghana for a number of years. In 2016, after three years in planning, the University of Ghana accepted its first group of Masters of Speech and Language Therapy students. Twelve students are now more than halfway through their degree. The programme at the University of Ghana is locally developed and delivered, and unique to the culture and context in Ghana. It focuses on both meeting the needs of individuals with communication disability, as well as prevention, early intervention, community awareness of communication disability and working with self-help groups.
The team at the University of Ghana successfully applied for Direct Aid Program (DAP) funding through the Australian High Commission in Accra. The DAP is a development assistance programme funded from Australia’s aid budget and administered by Australian diplomatic missions around the world. Funding was granted to subsidise living expenses of volunteers while in-country.
Associate Professor Bronwyn Davidson, of the University of Melbourne, was the first of a series of DAP-funded volunteers to support the programme in Ghana. Professor Davidson came to Ghana for three weeks to work in partnership with faculty, to design curriculum and teach in acquired communication disorders.
Professor Davidson left a legacy of teaching and clinical resources that will extend far beyond the first group of speech pathologists. Future DAP funded volunteers include volunteers from the UK, South Africa and the USA. Attracting high-quality volunteers has been made substantially easier through the provision of the DAP funding from the Australian Government.
Yet the small contributions from Australia and Australians are supporting the team in Ghana to gradually shift the landscape for people with communication and swallowing difficulties. Australia, ye da mo ase paa! (Australia, we thank you.)
Karen Wylie, Nana Akua Owusu, Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe and Clement Amponsah
Department of Audiology, Speech and Language Therapy
University of Ghana