Having almost completed her PhD at Brunel University London, global public health researcher Shirley Crankson has received an additional honour for her work at Ghana’s main COVID-19 treatment centre during the peak of the pandemic. Shirley fought to provide COVID patients with physiotherapy, and the Ghanaian President has recognised her remarkable sacrifice.

In September 2018, Shirley relocated from Ghana to begin her Master’s degree in Public Health at Brunel. After completing the year-long course, she then returned home to Ghana to reprise her role as a physiotherapist.

While working in an Accra hospital, Shirley was planning to transfer to a new hospital that was being built in the city. It was called Ga East Municipal Hospital and was due to open in Spring 2020.

A core team of Shirley’s colleagues were recruited to work at the new hospital, but the COVID-19 global pandemic forced it to open a little earlier than expected.

“In early March 2020, the first two cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Ghana, and the Ga East Municipal Hospital became the country’s main COVID-19 treatment centre,” said Shirley.

“Because of the transmission of COVID-19, some hospital staff, including physiotherapists, were asked to stay at home, and the main focus was on having doctors and nurses in the hospital’

“However, myself and another physiotherapist believed that physiotherapy would be important for COVID patients, and we put our case forward to the hospital’s director.”

Shirley was passionate about the importance of physiotherapy for patients and knew that she could play a vital role during the pandemic.

“If patients are in bed for a long period of time, their muscles can waste away, and they can have difficulties with their mobility and breathing patterns,” she said.

“We knew that being part of the clinical team would support patients with their recovery and help them avoid long-term problems such as fatigue.”

Shirley’s case was accepted by the hospital director, and she began working in the treatment centre within days of its opening.

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                  Shirley in full PPE clothing while working in Ghana’s main COVID-19 treatment centre.

“As physiotherapists, my colleague and I supported COVID patients with chest exercises, breathing exercises and mobility. We would turn patients onto their sides, and we moved their limbs to mobilise their muscles in preparation for leaving the treatment centre,” said Shirley.

“We were the only physiotherapists working at the hospital, and we treated around 200 patients over seven months.

“As COVID was a new disease, we also collected data from our patients for research and clinical purposes.”

Shirley explains that the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, was a key figure in the country’s management of COVID-19.

“At the start of the pandemic, people were unsure of the disease’s trajectory, and the President knew about the challenges that front-line workers were facing,” she said.

Last month, President Akufo-Addo awarded key pandemic staff from Ga East Municipal Hospital with a presidential honour for distinguished service.

The award recognises their leadership, passion, commitment, hard work and sacrifices made during the peak of the pandemic.

“The President knew about the importance of having people on the front line who were dedicated to fighting COVID, and I am proud to be a part of those who were awarded,” said Shirley.

“It was a whole team effort, and the hospital sent me my certificate, which is hand-signed by the President.”

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  Shirley’s certificate from the Ghanaian President.

In October 2020, Shirley returned to Brunel to start a PhD, exploring factors that determined severe risk of COVID-19 outcomes and the policy landscape in Ghana.

Having just completed her research, she has now secured a new role as a research fellow within Brunel’s Global Public Health team.

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                              Shirley giving a presentation at Brunel during her PhD.

Prof Nana Anokye, a global public health expert from Brunel, has supported Shirley throughout her postgraduate studies and is proud of her achievements and recognition.

“Presidential honour is an outstanding achievement and a clear testimony of Shirley’s unparalleled passion for scholarship and research in public health and disability. I am looking forward to her continued research within her new role at Brunel,” he said.

Credit: Brunel University

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