Most people see women and children go through pain and there is little they can do to ease or relief them. Dr Ida Dzifa Dey hates to see women and children go through much pain.

It is for this reason that she set up The Rheumatology Initiative (TRI) Ghana to increase awareness, provide information, tips and the latest advances in the care of people with autoimmune rheumatic diseases, with a special focus on young and adolescent persons with these conditions.

Dr Dey said she decided to move into this specialised area after observing how young people and women often came with kidney failures at their prime age.

The Rheumatologist physician specialist at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital is one of the nominees of the MTN Heroes of Change Season VI.

The Rheumatology Initiative Ghana

She founded the TRI in 2012 as a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing education, advocacy and research into autoimmune rheumatic conditions in Ghana and Africa.

As part of strategies to achieve their aims, the foundation meets once every month to provide a safe, conducive and affirmative environment for people living with autoimmune diseases, those coping with challenges in lifestyle (marriage, work, school, career choices etc.) and how to deal with relapse, death and dying.

Dr Dey, who is the Director of the foundation, reinforced that for a significant proportion of patients in developing countries such as Ghana, there is limited access to life-saving medications mainly due to financial constraints which limit the treatment benefits that can be offered.

The foundation has also established a Patient Assistance Programme which aims to provide emergency financial assistance to those with a life-altering diagnosis of lupus or other autoimmune diseases and who have a high financial need. They also provide training as a long-term empowering solution.

Dr Dey, whose dream is to establish a lab said, “here when you diagnose, some of the patients are unable to pay so they end up dying.”

"In 2012, on my return back home from training as the first rheumatologist in Ghana, I realized that having firsthand experience about the need for a rheumatology service didn’t mean other people including the health service saw it. I was alone, patients were suffering and dying.

"Forty-eight percent of admitted lupus cases died! Contrast to what I saw in the UK where in 2 years I did not experience any deaths. These patients were young people in the prime of their lives and if they didn’t die they ended up with permanent kidney damage requiring dialysis for life which cost more to the health service," she said.

She said many patients believe their diseases to be a result of “spiritual attack” based on the wide symptom complex and using scientific terms. 

Some also think that “foreign educational material “to explain their disease to them is very difficult with the resultant effect being a lot of patients default to seek spiritual or herbal treatment, coming back only when the disease is far advanced.

"These were entirely avoidable with the right education to make patients get diagnosed early before the disease has caused any damage, with early treatment with appropriate medication.

"Now this required education of patients, health workers who unfortunately are lost when it comes to these conditions and making sure that at the critical stages where this damage to organs can be salvaged the appropriate medications was available for those who
can’t afford it," she added.

“Heroes of Change””‹ series currently airs on Adom TV on Saturdays at 7:30 pm as well as several media platforms including GTV every Sunday at 5:00 pm; TV3 on Saturdays at 4:00 pm