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FOCOS and Sonia Nabeta Foundation: personal experience motivates two African nonprofits seeking paradigm shifts in health care

“Not many Ghanaian children born in the pre-independence era of Ghana lived to see their fifth birthday,” says Dr. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei. “Such was my fate in my early childhood years. But things changed and I dodged the bullet. Thousands of children, young men and women in Africa and other parts of the third world face such fates and miss out on opportunities and the dreams of their lives.

“At the age of seven I faced a dreadful illness which almost robbed me of my life,” he says, “But it was not meant to be.  A local Samaritan (physician) came to my rescue and became my role model. I looked up to him to have a vision for my life.”

This vision included, in 1998, establishing the Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine (FOCOS), which has performed thousands of complex surgeries and offering orthopedic care to tens of thousands of people.

“Building a first-class specialty hospital in the middle of nowhere in Africa was no chip shot. Partnering with hundreds of international volunteers, and philanthropic support to raise the needed money, enabled me to build and equip the FOCOS hospital in Accra, Ghana. The Samaritan story had come full circle, forty years later.”

For Vivian Nabeta, her path to establishing the Sonia Nabeta Foundation, which works to help children manage type 1 diabetes to avoid hospitalization—or worse—from undiagnosed and unchecked progression of their condition, in 2016 was similarly personal.

"When my sister, Sonia, lost her battle to type 1 diabetes (T1D) at the tender age of 24, after enduring it for nearly 16 years, a sense of purpose and mission was born,” says Vivian Nabeta. “T1D was not a top priority for governments in sub–Saharan Africa already grappling with a plethora of other communicable diseases but the condition was exacting a heavy toll on the lives of children, adolescents, and young adults!

“It was clear that simply providing insulin to a child in the midst of abject poverty was far from adequate. A comprehensive care model needed to be developed to transform the health prospects of children living with this condition. This impassioned motivation led to the establishment to the Sonia Nabeta Foundation, and it is the driving force behind our dedicated team's efforts to bolster local capacities and establish initiatives that address health disparities and provide holistic healthcare to these warriors."

The Sonia Nabeta Foundation now runs 31 clinics in Uganda and recently opened one in Ghana, where the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) supports its work.

Both Vivian Nabeta and Dr. Boachie-Adjei were present at a recent event celebrating FOCOS’s 25th anniversary.

For 15 of those formative years, SNF has proudly supported FOCOS. “’Life-changing’ is a term used freely in the Foundation world, but rarely are the results as immediate, concrete, and all-encompassing as they are in the lives of the tens of thousands of patients FOCOS has treated,” said SNF Senior Program Officer Roula Siklas at the event.

SNF is supporting FOCOS as it works to build a new rehabilitation center in Ghana that will provide lifesaving access to rehabilitation services and essential prosthetics and orthotics to many thousands of people. “The impact for those thousands of people will be gaining a quality of life that would otherwise be unattainable,” said Program Officer Ange Munyakazi.

At the same time, the new facility will serve as a regional center of excellence and training health care staff in best practices. The goal is not only to reach more patients, but to help catalyze a broader shift in who is able to access life-changing and lifesaving medical care—a shift echoed in scope and vision of the Sonia Nabeta Foundation’s work.

SNF is proud to partner with both FOCOS and the Sonia Nabeta Foundation, and to support other efforts to enable system-wide improvements in healthcare across Africa, from the construction of a children’s surgical hospital that tripled the number of beds available in Uganda to the establishment of a catheterization lab at a maternal hospital in Mali.