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IHTM student Isabella Lenihan-Ikin pictured with research placement colleagues Dr Akis Afoko and Dr Adams in Ghana
Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, and colleagues Dr Akis Afoko and Dr Adams.

Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, IHTM 2022, talks about the impact that her IHTM research placement had both on developing her skill set and on her personal commitment to raising the profile of Chronic Kidney Disease, CKD.

In 2023, Isabella studied the gendered impacts of CKD and access to treatment in Northern Ghana as her IHTM placement and dissertation. She has remained in contact with the team that she worked with at the Tamale Teaching Hospital in Northern Ghana. Isabella is currently studying the health impacts of climate change in New Zealand for a DPhil at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship.

The IHTM research placement
IHTM worked with Isabella, her placement supervisor, Dr Caesar Atuire, and contacts in Ghana to set up the research placement. IHTM provides a list of placements available to students but they are also able to find their own placement, as long as it meets the criteria set by the course.

Isabella gained valuable experience of conducting primary qualitative research, including submitting for ethics approval, data analysis, and most importantly building relationships with members of the community that she was working alongside. This experience has been particularly helpful with her DPhil.
Isabella said,

The research placement is a special and defining feature of IHTM. It provides an opportunity to apply the academic teaching of the first two terms of the MSc. It was particularly useful for me to be able to apply the ethical considerations that we had discussed at length in class. It also underscored the importance of relationship building in global health.

The research project that Isabella conducted was influential in highlighting the gender-based difference in access to treatment with women often finding it more difficult to pay for treatment and facing more transport barriers getting to the hospital. The team that Isabella worked alongside at Tamale Teaching Hospital was very appreciative of the work that she did. They shared that, whilst they presumed that gender was an important factor, they found the opportunity to reflect on the potential gender differences in health seeking behaviour among men and women with CKD a useful exercise.

The project team at the Tamale Teaching Hospital
The project team that Isabella worked alongside in Ghana is led by Dr Akis Afoko, a consultant urologist at Tamale Teaching Hospital. He is also the founder and director of Le Mete Ghana, which is an NGO that is seeking to establish the first kidney transplant centre in Ghana and provide essential subsidised dialysis treatment. As Isabella’s research found, these will greatly improve the care available to CKD patients. CKD is a major issue in Ghana (estimated prevalence is 13.3%), but there is very little support for patients. The main barriers for patients are: high cost of treatment (£30 per treatment, which they are encouraged to have three times a week), limited ability of dialysis centres (such that patients travel for the majority of a day to get the clinic) and the absence of kidney transplant services nationwide.

Following her research placement, Isabella remained in touch with the team and is keen to support the project to provide the first kidney transplant centre. The centre needs around £25,000 to get started and she is helping with raising funds. Isabella also has personal reasons for supporting CKD patients as her family has a rare genetic kidney failure condition and she has first-hand experience of what patients with the disease and end-stage renal failure, including those on dialysis, have to endure. In 2021, Isabella donated a kidney to her aunt, who was diagnosed with end stage renal failure and has witnessed the transformation that comes with a kidney transplant.

Isabella is raising money for the transplant centre. She ran the Leeds Half Marathon in May 2024 and is also organising and hosting workshops in Oxford to teach people how to make drinks from locally foraged elderflowers. If you would like to support the project through Isabella’s fundraising, then a link to her fundraising page can be found here

The last word
Speaking about the project Isabella said, “It is a privilege to be able to continue to support the life-saving work that my supervisor, friend and mentor, Dr Akis Afoko is leading in Northern Ghana. CKD is not a disease we can ignore and given that kidney transplants are the only definitive treatment for CKD patients, the creation of the first transplant centre in Ghana will go a long way to changing the lives of many patients, and we would be grateful for any support that you can provide.”

Find out more about IHTM research placements.