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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — March 5, 2004


Hailey doctor
en route to Ghana

Batcha finds more learning the hard way

Express Staff Writer

Medical school textbooks are fine. Required on-the-job residency training in hospitals is even better, with indispensable realism for physicians-in-the-making.

Dr. Frank Batcha Express photo by Willy Cook

But Dr. Frank Batcha, who’s on the medical staff of the Hailey Medical Clinic, has found a rare opportunity to practice medicine as few physicians do—dealing with tropical diseases in a primitive African village that has only a nurse for health care and nothing that passes for a hospital.

Batcha, 43, and one of his mentors, Dr. Wajeeh Nasser, will leave April 17 for a week of volunteer medical work in Bamboi, Ghana. Batcha trained with Nasser as a resident in Boise.

"This is an exploratory thing for both of us," Batcha said. "We’ve always talked about doing some kind of work in an under-served country. This will get our feet wet."

But Bamboi, Ghana—how did such a remote village enter Batcha’s life?

He was recruited indirectly by Jeannine Smith, of Boise, wife of Dr. Mark Smith, a dentist, whose own introduction to the West African country involves odd circumstances.

While Smith was practicing in Eugene, Ore., one of his patients was the sister-in-law of Suleman Issifu, a Ghanan who was to succeed his late father as chief of the Mamprusi tribe.

The Smiths were invited to Issifu’s coronation. During their travel to Ghana, they met another regal Ghanan, Nana Kwaku Dapaah II, the paramount chief of Bomboi and a collection of other villages.

(Issifu has since delegated his chiefly duties to a brother and now works in Phoenix, Ariz., for the state Department of Economic Security.)

Out of that visit was formed the Small Village Foundation that has launched several projects to assist villagers, such as providing uniforms and classroom supplies for school children, providing anti-snake serums, financing a new water well for the village, and creating a scholarship for a specialist to provide modern health care education for the tribe. (For more information see, www.smallvillagefoundation.org.)

Jeannine Smith invited her family physician, Nasser, to go to Ghana to work among villagers and Nasser in turn asked Batcha to accompany him.

"Frankly, we don't know what to expect," Batcha said about his work in Bamboi. "We may see some incredibly awful things—tropical diseases, weird tumors, malaria, maybe sleeping sickness."

At best, Batcha and Nasser will be limited in their medical treatment to the materials they can bring along on their visit. The facility that’s called a clinic lacks any of the modern equipment of a typical U.S. facility.

Reaching Bomboi involves a rigorous and demanding 10-hour drive from the capital of Accra on a primitive road.

"We’re pretty lucky in this country," observed Batcha, "to have great medical care and access to great medical care and elective surgery."

Batcha, who will pay his own way to Bomboi, said that spending a week among villagers would provide him with experience in treating illnesses and diseases that his Idaho patients might encounter in their global travel.

Batcha is a man of expanding skills and medical interests: He’s the volunteer team physician for the Suns hockey team, which gives him a chance to practice sports medicine, and a major in an Idaho National Guard medical company that could be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, where he would find yet more unique medical challenges.


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