When she was barely 13 years old, a neighbour’s daughter felt unwell and she was the only person around. She rushed the little girl to a private facility in the neighbourhood.
She didn’t have money or anything on her but requested that the little child be treated. One nurse at the clinic became very hostile to this teenager who was determined to save a life. She was even accused of being the cause of the illness.
Despite the hostility towards her, she stood her ground to ensure the child was treated. This made the nurse call her ‘mpanyinsem’, an expression in Twi which means 'behaving like an adult'.
Interestingly, the doctor who heard what had transpired walked out of his consulting room and treated the teenager with so much empathy and commended her for the bold step she had taken.
From that day, she vowed to put in her all to become a medical doctor to take care of the sick.
Indeed, when it comes to the field of hepatitis and liver cancer, she is a notable figure on the medical front. She is one of the 15 gastroenterologists the country has.
That teenager is today Dr Adwoa Afrakoma Agyei-Nkansah, a Consultant Physician at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) in Accra, Head of Medical Ward One Unit (Gastroenterology/Hepatology and Cardiac Ward), Department of Medicine, KBTH. She is also a lecturer at the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, School of Medicine and Dentistry at the same hospital.
Dr Agyei-Nkansah has several laurels under her belt and just last week, she went home with another award presented to her by the Hepatitis Alliance of Ghana for her extensive input in raising public awareness of hepatitis infection, providing health care and influencing public health policies in the country.
A gastroenterologist is a specialist with expertise in the disorders and diseases that affect the digestive system — which includes the gastrointestinal tract (oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus), as well as the pancreas, liver, bile ducts and gall bladder.
Dr Agyei-Nkansah, who is also an HIV expert, has about 32 publications to her credit.
Liver cancer cases
Touching on some of the cases currently in Ghana, Dr Agyei-Nkansah explained that liver cancer was a big issue in Ghana due to the high prevalence of chronic Hepatitis B infection.
“The prevalence of Hepatitis B is about 12.3 and 75 per cent of the causes of liver cancer. Due to Hepatitis B, the average age for liver cancer is about 42. Women are usually around 48 years and 38 years for males. They present with advanced disease and most of the time much cannot be done for them,” she said.
According to her, education of the general public on hepatitis and liver cancer was very low compared to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. There are a lot of myths regarding the disease.
“Some even describe it as a spiritual illness and others as the disease of the promiscuous. These are not true. Hepatitis is mainly transmitted from a pregnant woman with the virus during labour (vertical transmission). It can also be from child to child (horizontal), and occasionally through sex, piercing, tattooing among others,” she noted.
Dr Agyei-Nkansah, who is very passionate about patients’ wellness and safety, said patients with the disease faced a lot of challenges when it came to treatment.
She mentioned some of the problems as lack of laboratory services in some areas, high cost of labs when available, cost of treatment, problems with getting well-trained people to manage patients, availability of drugs and treatment not on health insurance.
Aside from medicine, Dr Agyei-Nkansah's interest areas are in religious and church activities. Her husband is a senior minister with The Apostolic Church, Ghana.
“I love supporting his ministry. I share God’s word and I am passionate about the youth: their Christian life, education and well-being,” she noted.
Despite her tight schedule at the hospital, she still finds time to teach senior high school students in the church Biology, Chemistry, English Language, General Science, Mathematics and French.
“This is usually after church or when they come on holidays. Teaching is my passion. I am naturally God-fearing, humble, a great teacher and speaker. I am always ready to serve rather than be served,” she indicated.
Dr Agyei-Nkansah also loves to organise medical outreaches in deprived communities to help those with medical conditions who have financial challenges. “I am also a philanthropist to a fault as my sisters will describe me,” she said.
Recounting her childhood experience, she said, “I would say I was blessed growing up. My parents were good Christians. My mother, the late Rose Appiah Agyei, was a teacher and my father, Christian Appiah Agyei, was the then Secretary-General of the Trades Union Congress then. They were so supportive. I remember countless times when I was preparing for my Ordinary and Advanced Levels, my dad would sit by me throughout, sometimes dozing off but would never leave me.”
According to her, she had very supportive cousins, Eric and Yaw Nsarkoh, the late Lawrence Yirenkyi Boafo and Richard Peasah among others who kept her on her toes and cheered her on any time she excelled in school. “I doff my hat to them,” she said.
Dr Agyei-Nkansah started her primary education at Aggrey Memorial International School at Kanda in Accra. She later moved to Datus Preparatory School when her family relocated to Dansoman, also a suburb of Accra.
For her secondary education, she attended St Mary’s Secondary School at Korle Gonno in Accra, from where she gained admission to the University of Ghana Medical School where she won so many awards upon her graduation.
The gastroenterologist has been married to Senior Minister John Oduro Nkansah for the past 22 years. He is the senior minister of the Adabraka District as a non-salaried minister. He is a commercial farmer/exporter and food scientist.
They are blessed with three children: Jason, Kwadwo and Aelish.