WSU Helps Ghana Breathe Easier

OGDEN, Utah – Taking a deep breath in Ghana can be toxic. Citizens suffer a range of treatable pulmonary diseases caused by inhaling smoke from coal fires, dust from unpaved roads and poisonous car exhaust. Hoping to make breathing easier in the African nation a pulmonologist from Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Ghana will visit the respiratory therapy program at Weber State University Nov. 3-8.

On a fellowship visit, Audrey Forson will spend a week on campus with faculty and students learning practical applications she can take back to her home country and administer in daily practice at the hospital.

“I look forward to looking at the training and considering how I can help facilitate a similar course into our curriculum,” Forson wrote from Ghana. “Respiratory therapy is new to Ghana, and I want find out more about the range of its practice in the U.S., including the expertise and limitations.”
 WSU graduate Robby Phelps instructs Forson
 on using a portable, battery-operated nebulizer 
during a 2012 trip to Ghana.

In addition to gaining knowledge in critical care procedures performed by respiratory therapists in the U.S., Forson will learn creative, non-invasive procedures that don’t require expensive medical equipment. “We’ll teach her breathing exercises and patient-positioning and airway-clearance techniques she can share with her staff,” said Lisa Trujillo, assistant professor of respiratory therapy. “The resources in Ghana are very limited, so we need to teach respiratory care on a basic level that includes public health outreach, such as showing mothers that cooking meals over solid fuel sources inside a closed hut is causing major damage to their lungs as well as their children’s.”

Trujillo says having an insider who understands the culture and the resources available is essential to improving overall lung health in the nation. 

“Forson may not have access to resources like state-of-the-art respiratory equipment and ventilators, but she’ll learn how to cross train her nurses and community health workers in basic prevention and treatment including diet, exercise and environmental risks,” Trujillo said. “These are really bright people in a resource-poor country who know how to be inventive with what they have.”

Trujillo met Forson in Ghana during one of her 10 medical missions to the country where asthma, emphysema and pulmonary disease are widespread, and pneumonia is one of the top-five causes of death.

“I’ve met 20-year-old men who have never smoked in their life, fighting to catch a breath,” Trujillo said. “Young children are at risk for chronic lung disease because they breathe in the toxic fumes of plastic when they burn computer wire to get to the valuable copper.”

After her week at WSU, Forson will attend the American Association for Respiratory Care International Conference in New Orleans before heading back home to Ghana.  

“I hope my visit will encourage respiratory therapists in the U.S. to receive some of their training abroad,” Forson said. “They will learn how one can manage and educate patients with breathing difficulties in resource-poor settings.”

Trujillo will return to Ghana again in November to see firsthand how Forson incorporates the lessons she learned at WSU into her practice. Then in May, Trujillo will take a study abroad group to Ghana to further assist Forson in educating staff on respiratory therapy and the development of that profession at her teaching hospital.

“Change takes a long time in Ghana,” Trujillo said. “The processes are slow, but education is the first step. Forson is a champion in her country and her visit will be one step closer to the people of Ghana taking cleaner, deeper breaths.”

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Lisa Trujillo, assistant professor, respiratory therapy
801-626-7075 •
Kimberly Jensen, University Communications
801-626-7581 •