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Johnson & Johnson

Dr. Michael Ohene-Yeboah can still recall the seemingly mysterious ailment that afflicted so many people in his Ghanaian village.

He'd often see the local Catholic priest as he ran around trying to treat those who'd fallen victim to this strange abdominal sickness.

He remembers the howls of pain, how the protrusions in their bodies swelled to the point where they could no longer work, and how, all the while, herbalists and other healers warned them that surgery was too expensive and wouldn't help them even if they could afford it.


[rebelmouse-image 19533079 dam="1" original_size="1024x768" caption="Photo by oneVillage Initiative/Flickr." expand=1]Photo by oneVillage Initiative/Flickr.

He never had a name for it until he became a district medical officer: inguinal hernia. And cases of it kept him busy day and night.

More than 200 million people across the world suffer from inguinal hernias — a condition where an organ or other piece of tissue breaches the muscle wall in the groin, causing swelling, infection, and blockages. The bulge that results can sometimes descend as far down as the knees, causing even more discomfort. Often, the sufferer is unable to work or even move around.

The mortality rate from hernias is particularly high in Africa, where it's estimated that only 30 out of every 100,000 cases get repaired. The surgery is a simple outpatient procedure, but it still requires more money and surgical skill than most West Africans can afford.

"Non-surgeon physicians already perform the repair of inguinal hernias in the rural district hospitals," Ohene-Yeboah says via email.

"However ... the outcomes were not very satisfactory," he continues. "Now, if the skills of these non-surgeons can be improved then we could expect better outcomes."

Ohene-Yeboah has been teaching the easy-to-learn mesh repair technique to non-surgeon doctors for years. It requires just a few supplies, such as sutures and anesthetics, along with standard surgical monitoring equipment. But the mesh itself, which holds the breached organs back until the muscle wall heals, can often be too expensive for some rural hospitals.

Ohene-Yeboah and his fellow surgeons must also contend with the lack of education around treatment for inguinal hernia, especially in remote areas. "Many patients with long-standing inguinal hernia have been told by the herbalists and other traditional healers that an operation will lead to death," he says.

Some of them will eventually accept the surgery, after much convincing, but not all.

[rebelmouse-image 19533080 dam="1" original_size="1280x834" caption="Photo by Shane T. McCoy/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]Photo by Shane T. McCoy/Wikimedia Commons.

Ohene-Yeboah was still committed to saving as many lives as possible, but he always knew there had to be a better way. Then, one day, it found him.

In 2011, Ohene-Yeboah published a paper in the West African Journal of Medicine about the hernia epidemic in Ghana, explaining how low-cost mesh and basic training for non-surgeons could make a massive difference for the country. It attracted the attention of Dr. Jessica Beard.

A U.S.-born surgeon, Beard had spent time in Ghana as part of a high-school exchange program and continued to return to the African continent because she was interested in the intersections of surgery and public health.

In an email, she explains that "in Ghana, we have hernia surgeons interested in training doctors to perform hernia surgery and doctors who want to learn. But physicians in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) face many competing interests and need to be compensated for the training and care they provide."

[rebelmouse-image 19533081 dam="1" original_size="1280x960" caption="Photo by Nora Morgan/Flickr." expand=1]Photo by Nora Morgan/Flickr.

So Ohene-Yeboah and Beard worked together to create a "toolkit" to help non-surgeon doctors in Ghana address the hernia problem themselves.

The toolkit includes a series of step-by-step instructions and pre-recorded lectures to help prepare doctors for the very basic hernial repair procedure called the Lichtenstein technique. It also provides a breakdown of the necessary surgical supplies, incentives, and guidance for how to fund and provide the training (like transportation, food, accommodations, and a small honorarium for trainers).

Beard handles research and logistics in the U.S., including gathering financial support from their partner organizations such as the Americas Hernia Society and the Swedish Research Council.

But other than that, she says, "It's all locally driven by Michael's leadership, vision, and tenacity."

And that's how the Ghana Hernia Society was born, with the mission to "reduce the burden of disease from inguinal hernia through increasing access to high quality care."

The inaugural class of 12 non-surgeon doctors trained in the mesh repair procedure "graduated" in 2013. The society has continued to expand and grow since then.

But there's still a lot of work to do — and not enough funding.

In addition to toolkits and training programs, Ohene-Yeboah and Beard also use the Ghana Hernia Society as a vessel to secure surgery funding and low-cost supplies. "We hope to use data from the study on our program to show the Ghanaian government that investing in surgery can be effective and cost-effective," Beard explains. "Our training program and toolkit implementation are the first step in this process."

Over the next 5 to 10 years, they hope to triple the number of Ghanians treated for hernias. And if their dataset is large enough to prove the value of the program, Ohene-Yeboah hopes to eventually build a factory where they can produce their own commercial mesh, making this simple surgical process easily available in hospitals across West Africa, including Ghana.

[rebelmouse-image 19533082 dam="1" original_size="1280x850" caption="Photo by USAID Africa/Flickr." expand=1]Photo by USAID Africa/Flickr.

In 2018, the Ghana Hernia Society received a $50,000 Gen H Challenge grant. It's a huge step forward — but they still need more support as they move into the future.

You can help them out as well by donating cash or supplies to the Ghana Hernia Society.

As Sir Cecil Wakeley of the Royal College of Surgeons once said, "A surgeon can do more for the community by operating on hernia cases and seeing that his recurrence rate is low than he can by operating on cases of malignant disease."

That was 70 years ago, and it remains true today.

It's people like Ohene-Yeboah and Beard who are doing the work to keep those recurrence rates low, helping communities across Ghana and the rest of West Africa.

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

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We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

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