Growing up in a small village in southern Ghana, Osei Boateng watched many of his family members and neighbors struggle to access basic health care. In many regions of the country, it can take hours to get to the nearest hospital.
Boateng said many people lost their lives due to preventable or treatable diseases. His grandmother and aunt were among them.
“My grandmother was a very big part of my life,” said Boateng, 28. “It was very hard when we lost her, and it was due to something that could have been easily prevented. That is the painful part of it.”
The average life expectancy in Ghana is 64 years old, and the most common causes of death are largely treatable conditions, such as malaria, stroke, and respiratory infections.
Feeling an urgent call to help, Boateng decided he would make it his life’s mission to bring health care to remote communities in Ghana. He worked hard in school and got a scholarship to study biology at Cornell University in the US.
“I was learning a lot about hypertension and diabetes and things that people back home didn’t know they could die from,” said Boateng, who ultimately earned his master’s in Healthcare Administration. “Early screening wasn’t an option for us.”
He realized that education and preventative health care was lacking in many remote areas of Ghana. Yet telling people to go to the doctor wasn’t the answer.
“I realized that these people don’t have the luxury of time,” Boateng said. “The food that they put on the table is determined by what they sell in the market. If I tell them to go to the hospital, there’s no way they are going to go.”
Doctor’s office on wheels
Boateng wanted to find a way to remove these barriers to health care access and education. He started his nonprofit, OKB Hope Foundation, and in 2021, he converted a van into a mobile doctor’s office and started bringing health care directly to those in need.
A few times a week, the mobile clinic and medical team travel long distances to remote communities in Ghana and provide free routine medical care.
On each trip, Boateng’s team consists of a nurse, physician’s assistant, doctor, and operation assistant. In the van, they can run basic labs like bloodwork and urinalysis as well as prescribe and provide medications.
“It’s like a one-stop shop for people,” said Boateng, adding that most of the people they see have one health issue or another.
Since its launch, Boateng says the Hope Health Van has served more than 4,000 Ghanaians across more than 45 rural communities who otherwise don’t have easily accessible medical care.
Empowering local communities
To supplement the mobile clinic, Boateng’s organization has also trained 20 volunteers to serve as local health advocates. They check people’s vitals, such as blood pressure and glucose levels, and provide the medical team with timely data for assessing how to move forward with care and treatment, especially for those whose health is at risk.
“We are empowering local community members to be able to provide care to their own community members,” Boateng said.
To date, the health advocates have helped more than 1,000 people.
In his efforts to provide basic medical care and save lives, Boateng realized that mental health was also an issue he needed to address.
“In Ghana, if you show mental health symptoms or even if you express that you are depressed, you are seen as a weak person,” he said.
For Boateng, it’s important to treat the whole person. Last year, he and his organization launched an initiative to integrate mental health into their care and destigmatize getting help. They also speak at schools to show younger generations there is no shame in taking care of your mental health.
Throughout Ghana and beyond
Boateng has big plans for the future. He hopes to expand to provide more consistent and high-quality medical care not only to those living in remote areas of Ghana but in other countries as well.
“I believe that our model can be replicated in Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “So, the goal is to really develop strategic partnerships and get additional mobile health vans for the communities or the regions that we want to serve.”
Boateng has gone all in on his OKB Hope Foundation, recently quitting his job to dedicate his time to bringing health care to his home country. But for him, the sacrifices are well worth the reward.
“Words cannot describe the feeling that you get providing care for someone who otherwise wouldn’t be alive if your mobile health van wasn’t there.”
Want to get involved? Check out the OKB Hope Foundation website and see how to help.
To donate to OKB Hope Foundation via GoFundMe, click here