It is easy to have a dream but working towards achieving such a dream separates achievers from non-achievers. Her childhood dream was to become a doctor, and with determination, hard work and inspiration from her late father, Dr Theodora Audrey Akosua Ansomaa Pepera is living her dream as an obstetrician, gynaecologist and colposcopist.
Although she was discouraged by people through statements such as “you do not have what it takes to be a medical doctor” she sailed through to become a prominent consultant obstetrician, gynaecologist and colposcopist, not only in the United Kingdom where she had her training but also in Ghana.
Born to the late Kwabena Pepera, one of the giants of Ghana's post-colonial private sector industrialists, and Beatrice Pepera, she did not let her family’s wealth get to her head, so she worked to achieve her dream.
Having stayed in the UK for her medical training and having practised for more than 15 years, Dr Pepera believes it is time for her country to benefit from her expertise, especially in the area of colposcopy, to fight cervical cancer, which is the leading cancer-related killer of women in the world.
Colposcopy is the procedure of using (colposcopy) equipment to scan for pre-cancerous signs. The procedure provides an enlarged view of the cervix, allowing the colposcopist to visually distinguish normal from abnormal tissues.
After working at one of the best hospitals in the UK since 2009, the 52-year-old mother of three, voluntarily retired early in October 2013 as a Consultant in Ambulatory Gynaecology and Colposcopy from Guy’s and St Thomas’ National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust Hospital, London, to enable her to get enough time to bring her expertise to help women in her country.
Return to Ghana
In spite of the golden opportunities for her as a full time doctor at the Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital in the UK, she decided to return to the country to give support in her field of specialisation.
She is now working on part time basis at the St George’s Hospital in the UK.
She said while in the UK, there were about 2,000 certified colposcopists and 384 colposcopist trainers but Ghana could not boast of such numbers.
As an accredited colposcopist and colposcopy trainer by the British Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, Dr Pepera has voluntarily trained some doctors and nurses at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Korle Bu Polyclinic, Battor Hospital and Ridge Hospital.
To help put her teachings to effective practice, she assisted the Korle Bu Polyclinic to get a portable colposcope instrument, which was procured with funds from the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), with the producers of the genocular brand of the equipment giving a discount.
Initially, during the training at the Korle Bu Polyclinic, the colposcopist was using her own equipment to train the family health doctors, until the clinic acquired its own colposcope instrument through her initiative.
Critical need for screening
Considering the fact that some people flew to countries like South Africa for the colposcopy test, she said enough equipment and trained doctors, as well as nurses in the country, would provide a preventive service to help improve the health of women.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 5000 new cases of cervical cancer would be recorded in the country, annually, by 2025, with 3,000 people dying from the disease by that period. Currently, about 2,000 cases are recorded annually.
On that note, she said one way of dealing with the disease, apart from the vaccination, was the colposcopy which helped to detect precancerous changes which were at risk of progression to invasive cervical cancer if left untreated.
The colposcopy procedure, she said, did not replace the pap smear routine of screening for cervical cancer but was an advanced form of screening for the disease.
In addition to education and awareness creation, and increasing accessibility to screening, she said lots of lives would be saved.
Meanwhile, the Korle Bu Polyclinic has had the most intensive training and Dr Pepera said she intends to ensure that it becomes not solely a centre for treatment but also a hub for training professionals in the country, as well as the West African sub-region.
She also expressed the hope that the government would help in the procurement of the equipment for all health facilities to ensure primary health care and also train professionals to effectively use them.
Delving further into her educational background, Dr Pepera said she had her basic education at the Ghana International School, after which she continued to the Achimota Secondary School from 1974-1977 and later to the St Mary's Hall, Brighton, UK, from 1977 – 1981 for her ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ levels.
In pursuit of her medical career, Dr Pepera began her medical career in London, qualifying from the Royal Free Hospital Medical School in Hampstead.
She undertook basic and higher training at teaching hospitals mainly in London, including St Mary’s Hospital, Royal Free Hospital, Hammersmith Hospital, Kingston Hospital and the St George’s Hospital.