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Image credit: Stroke Aid Foundation

Sweetie Anang: Stroke Aid Foundation

Sweetie Anang: Stroke Aid Foundation

Informing a nation about the risk of stroke

Image above: Sweetie Anang, Co-founder of Stroke Aid Foundation, Ghana

Less than a year after being founded, Stroke Aid Foundation has reached more than 1,200 people in five communities in Ghana. Queen’s Young Leader, Sweetie Anang tells Leading Change how the organisation she co-founded is changing the health of a nation.

Every six seconds, someone, somewhere in the world dies from a stroke. Stroke is the biggest cause of long-term disability worldwide and can happen at any age – including childhood. In fact, one in every six of us will experience stroke at some point in our lives.

When someone has a stroke, the affect on their loved ones – family, friends, colleagues and communities – is enormous.

When Sweetie Anang’s father suffered a stroke, her family were devastated. She felt strongly that the care, resources and awareness around stroke sufferers was lacking in Ghana. What’s more, ignorance about the causes of stroke led some people to gossip.

“People said all sorts of things about how maybe his family member caused this. They don’t accept that it’s a result of your lifestyle.”

So, when Sweetie was recognised by the Queen’s Young Leaders Award – for encouraging girls to get involved with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – she came to the programme with “an idea to start a non-profit for stroke survivors”.

Getting started

The Leading Change course was integral to the way Sweetie approached her ambition to set up such an organisation.

“Module 1 got me started,” she says. “We had to draft our mission statement, our circle of influence and figure out all about ourselves. That was the biggest push.”

Working through Module 1 helped Sweetie draft a mission statement, create a Facebook page and do “all the little underground work I could do by myself”.

Sweetie knew she needed help to achieve her goals, but her initial partner was not as proactive as she had hoped. “So I spoke to a friend of mine,” Sweetie explains, “She’s a physiotherapist.”

Sweetie’s friend put her in touch with Hosea Boakye, another physiotherapist who was also setting up a stroke awareness organisation. Hosea works with the Ghana Health Service specialising in stroke rehabilitation among other things. His research has been published internationally.

“We started talking and we realised it wouldn’t really be a bad idea to come together,” says Sweetie. “And since he is the physiotherapist, he can take care of all the medical aspects, whilst I take care of the tech.”

The strategy

Stroke Aid Foundation registered as a non-profit in Ghana in October 2016 and takes a two-pronged approach.

  1. Prevention – screening people to check their risk, so that they can act
  2. Raising awareness – educating people about the causes of stroke.

“We have a team of about 20 people. So far we’ve organised three screening events and two talks in churches.”

The next stage of the plan is to catch people while they’re still young by visiting secondary schools.

“We are sending out letters to schools that may be interested in hosting us, so that we can talk to their students.”

Man taking woman's blood pressure

Laurence from Stroke Aid Foundation takes a participant's blood pressure. Image credit: Stroke Aid Foundation

Prevention

“We screen for blood glucose level, cholesterol, blood pressure,” says Sweetie explaining that the risk of stroke increases in people who are diabetic or those who smoke and drink excessively.

“And if you look like you’re going up above safe levels, we recommend you go to a hospital and get treatment.”

Raising awareness

The other side of the strategy is to educate people about the causes of stroke to empower them to lead a healthier lifestyle, as well as change attitudes.

“We basically educate them on the risk factors of stroke. So we talk about how to ensure your diet is adequate and all the things that lead to a stroke.”

This includes smoking and drinking alcohol. “That’s very difficult,” says Sweetie. “People don’t like to give up smoking and drinking!”

People in an audience, listening

Listening to a talk on stroke prevention. Image credit: Stroke Aid Foundation

The long term

Based in Accra, Stroke Aid Foundation has already run events in Kumasi and Obuasi. Sweetie is hoping to reach all regions of Ghana over the next five years.

“Accra is a city so most people have easy access to the hospitals and health centres,” she says, “I want to look at all those communities that otherwise wouldn’t have easy access to health centres.”

There is no doubt that stroke is causing an increasing number of deaths in Ghana. In 2012, the World Health Organization, reported stroke as the second largest cause of death in the country.

Sweetie says that the associated risk factors such as hypertension – or high blood pressure – diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease, are also on the rise. One of her aims for the Stroke Aid Foundation, is to stop that rise in its tracks.

“We are hoping that all those cases would reduce – or be managed at least. Maybe find that a hypertensive patient wouldn’t get so ill that they end up having a stroke.”

Harriet from Stroke Aid Foundation takes a participant's information

“We have a team of about 20 people. So far we’ve organised three screening events..."

Sweetie Anang

Florence of Stroke Aid Foundation weighs a participant

“We screen for blood glucose level, cholesterol, blood pressure...” 

Sweetie Anang

Florence also measures the height of participants