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Health care

Serving the poor

by Maxwell Suuk


At a the Shekhinah Clinic in the city centre of Tamale in northern Ghana, lots of bowls with hot meals are lined up. Over 200 people with mental problems and poor people who cannot afford a daily meal come here to eat.

“Some people cannot get food anywhere else,” says Muniru Sayibu, a volunteer at the Clinic. Shekhinah is headed by David Fuseini Abdulai, a medical doctor who chose to serve the underprivileged and the destitute. He relies on 37 volunteers to run his health facility.  

“I have always wanted to work with poor people,” Abdulai says. “I only became a doctor to reach out to people who were socially disadvantaged.” Born in Tamale as one of 11 children, Abdulai is actually the only surviving child of his parents. His ten brothers and sisters died from curable diseases related to malnutrition.

As a teenager, David Abdulai hitch-hiked to southern Ghana to do hard labour. By working, he managed to pay for his senior high school studies. Later, he got a scholarship to study medicine abroad. When he returned to Tamale in 1989, he started the Shekhinah Clinic. It is a free health-care centre for people who cannot afford medical care. Patients come here from other parts of Ghana to benefit from his benevolence.

Abdulai has faced many challenges, including lack of funds to pay staff. “I did my first operation under a mango tree with the help of my wife and my brother-in-law,” he recounts. “Then gradually people started coming by to say: can we help? We said we have no money to pay anybody, but you can volunteer. So the first few people came, and then more volunteers started coming.”

Lack of opportunity didn’t deter David Abdulai from doing what he always wanted to do. “My father was a leper. My mother was practically a beggar, and getting a meal a day was very, very difficult. I know by my own experience what it means to be poor. So when I am dealing with poor people, it’s not the matter of thinking, it’s the matter of feeling … and when you feel very strongly about something, you just follow it. And that is what I did.”

Apart from food hand outs, Abdulai’s clinic offers free medical treatment, surgery, clothing and free accommodation for HIV/AIDS-infected persons. Everything is financed by donations. Approximately 20,000 outpatients are treated every year, and 2,500 patients are treated in the wards. Around 1,000 operations are performed annually.

In 2012, David Abdulai was given the US Embassy’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Peace and Social Justice. He was the fifth recipient of this prize which the USA established to honour Ghanaian citizens who personify the philosophy of the famous civil-rights leader who was murdered in Tennessee in 1968.

Maxwell Suuk is a journalist and lives in Northern Ghana.
[email protected]

The Shekhina Clinic:

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