Physiotherapy in the Volta Region – role of John Mawuli Kumah

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By Eric KUMAH, Lewis AHIAKU and Christian AKPESEY

Healthcare has many disciplines, and among them physiotherapy differentiates itself in its way of working. According to World Physiotherapy – the global organisation that represents 600,000 physiotherapists worldwide, Physiotherapy is the professional healthcare discipline that uses physical methods other than drugs or surgery to promote, maintain or restore health. In some countries, it is called Physical Therapy, Physio or simply shortened to PT.

According to records from the Ghana Physiotherapy Association, the practice of PT in Ghana began in the 1940s with the arrival of a British Physiotherapist called Mrs. Price. This pioneering lady started practising at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra and later arranged for a Ghanaian nurse to be sent for training in the UK. In 1963, Mrs. Price expanded physio service to Kumasi by establishing the practice at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. From that time, the practice spread to other parts of the country.

In 1967, a group of students won a full government scholarship to study Physiotherapy in Romania. This group included Raphael Kwame Yaadar, Allen G. Akaba, Emmanuel Addo and John Mawuli Kumah – who later became the first physiotherapist in the Volta Region and known as the Father of Physiotherapy in the Volta Region of Ghana.

Establishing physiotherapy at the Volta Regional Hospital, Ho

Since the 1960s, the government, Ghana Health service and Ministry of Health have systematically tried to expand physiotherapy (PT) to various parts of the country beyond Accra and Kumasi. This effort included training professionals and establishing departments in hospitals and health centres nationwide.

In the year 2000, a Physiotherapy Department was opened at the Volta Regional Hospital (VRH), making John Mawuli Kumah opt to come to Ho. He obtained a release and was posted as a pioneer PT at VRH in August 2000. Due to some initial challenges with accommodation, he began work in November 2000.

On arrival in Ho, he formed a 3-member PT Department and began work. Together, the first thing they did was to set objectives for the department;

  • To provide efficient and effective physiotherapy services to clients in the Volta Region and beyond
  • To create awareness on physiotherapy and rehab services
  • To help in the training of PT and other related health staff
  • to extend PT and rehab services to other parts of the Volta Region

At the new Volta Regional Hospital in Ho, John laid the firm foundation of state-of-the-art physiotherapy service in the Volta Region. They started physiotherapy and partnered with seasoned specialised doctors – Dr. Nyamuame, the medical superintendent; Dr. Agbemey, orthopedic surgeon; Dr. Letsa, ENT Specialist; Dr. Atuwo, psychiatric specialist, among others.

As the Regional Physiotherapist and Head of Department, John and his team achieved a lot at the Volta Regional Hospital. They treated various health disorders, e.g back pain, stroke, arthritis and more. He introduced clinics on Saturdays or public holidays for the benefit of clients; and under his supervision, wheelchairs were created for the physically challenged.  During his time, some American and European physios came to do their voluntary service, and some of them made donations of reference books to the department, which are still available today.

Working and leadership style

J.M Kumah was a man who believed in professional excellence. Physiotherapy was his reason to live and he gave his all to his profession. When he was not running clinics or teaching his students, he was planning the advancement of the practice.

His trusted assistant, who later took over from him as Head of Department, Lewis Ahiaku, described John as “a man of profound thought, dedicating countless afternoons meticulously planning ways to elevate the  physiotherapy profession in the Volta Region of Ghana. Mr. Kumah’s teaching style was unique. He empowered me by granting autonomy while offering guidance when necessary.

“To those familiar with him, he was undeniably tough, setting clear expectations and demanding conformity. Succeeding under his guidance required immense patience, resilience against sharp criticism, and the acceptance of tough love. Yet, in the end, this rigorous approach proved beneficial. Mr. Kumah possessed an exceptional institutional memory. His ability to recall dates, times, names and procedures from various places he had worked was remarkable. When he spoke, people listened. He commanded respect effortlessly because that’s who he was at his core.”

J.Mr. Kumah and his students at Volta Regional Hospital, Ho

Teaching at the University of Ghana

In September 2003, J.M Kumah was invited to work as clinical tutor to train new student PTs at SAHS – School of Allied Health Sciences, Korle Bu, Accra. The students would do their coursework in the university in Accra and then go to the department in Ho to do their long vacation practical training called vocational and clinical internship under his tutorship.

John was an excellent tutor of Electrotherapy, he taught the course so well that his students admired his style of teaching since he made it so practical and simple to understand. Till today, some PT students still use some of John’s old lesson materials in their studies. This made him famous and loved by all his students, especially the class of 2005, who appreciated him so much and gave him a citation of honour years after his retirement. As a result of his teaching from 2003 to 2011, many of today’s practitioners were trained by John and regard him as their professional father or godfather.

Establishing Physiotherapy at the Hohoe District Hospital, Hohoe

From Ho, John went to start physiotherapy service at Hohoe District Hospital in April 2007. In the new department in Hohoe, John brought the same rigorous approach and excellent practice to work and drove awareness of physio in the hospital while providing quality healthcare to the many clients who patronised the hospital.

In the beginning, he operated a weekly PT service till a substantive physiotherapist was posted to the hospital. For his many contributions to promote Physiotherapy, J.M Kumah is seen as the Father of Physiotherapy in the Volta Region of Ghana.

J.Mr. Kumah with staff and students at University of Ghana SAHS, Accra

Personal life and education

John Mawuli Kumah was born on April 6, 1949 at Okorase in the Eastern Region of Ghana. His father was Ignatius Krah Kumah, a timber sawyer from Alavanyo Agoxoe, and Dora Ama Afetor, a foodstuff trader from Alavanyo Abehenease. He was the fifth child of a family of six.

John started his primary school education in 1955 at Okorase Methodist Primary School and continued at the Roman Catholic Middle School, Alavanyo Kpeme from 1960 to 1964. He passed the Middle School Leaving Certificate exam with distinction in 1964 and won a full scholarship from the Cocoa Marketing Board.

His loving senior brother, Raphael Agbeko Kumah, then arranged for him to attend his own alma mater, St. Augustine’s College in Cape Coast, Ghana, in September 1965. In St. Augustine’s College, John completed Senior Secondary School education, obtained the GCE O Level certificate in June 1969, and proceeded to sixth form and obtained the GCE A Level certificate in June 1971.

In August 1975, John won a full government scholarship and went to study Physiotherapy at the  Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vilcea and Bucharest, Romania from 1975 to 1979. After studies in Romania, John returned to Ghana in December 1979 and got appointed as a Staff Physiotherapist in the Physiotherapy (PT) Department of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital from 1979 to 1981.

From there, he then took up appointment at Oyo State Hospital at Oyo town in the Oyo State of Nigeria in July 1981. From Oyo town, he was posted to Eruwa District Hospital in the Ibarapa Local Government Area of Oyo state, Nigeria. In November 1985, he took up an appointment in Awojobi Clinic Eruwa (ACE) after his resignation from Eruwa District Hospital. He resigned from ACE and arrived in Ghana in October 1996.

On his return to Ghana, John was re-engaged by Ghana Health Service and reposted to the Physiotherapy Department of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. He was posted to the newly established Volta Regional Hospital in Ho in 2000. John was married for 43 years to Mercy Dotse and they were blessed with four children – Edem, Junior, Priscilla and Mawuena.  He was a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

Retirement and passing

J.M Kumah retired from active service in 2011 and passed to eternity in March 2024. He was laid to rest at Alavanyo, his hometown. Tributes poured in from far and near. The Ghana Physiotherapy Association said: “J.M Kumah was a pioneer and his life was well lived in dedication to the cause of the physiotherapy profession in Ghana. Not many leave behind a legacy of such dedication and accomplishment. Colleagues knew him as an affable, cooperative, helpful and dedicated member. Despite his established background and position, Mr. Kumah was a modest man; a real gentleman, not reluctant to organise and file his own papers”.

More tributes came from his former department at VRH, Ho; Awojobi Clinic Eruwa, Nigeria; his favourite student class of 2005, family, neighbours and well wishers.

His mentee and confidante, Christian Akpesey, gave an emotional farewell to his ‘Grandpa’- He recounted how a professional meeting grew into a family relationship, their long phone calls discussing various topics, and the many secrets of life they shared. He fondly remembered one of John’s sayings – ‘Life is war and has many battles that we have to fight.’

He ended by saying: “I learnt a lot of things from you that I didn’t learn in school. Grandpa, who is  going to publish our book now that you’re gone.?” His wife and children shared moments of their family life. Indeed, it was a befitting tribute in honour of the man who is known as the Father of Physiotherapy in the Volta Region of Ghana.

In concluding the funeral rites, the Chief of Alavanyo Abehenease, Togbe Komla Kunde V, said  John lived the type of life we must all emulate because it is an example of how one individual can bring great honour to his people. John has brought great honour to the Kumah and Afetor families, Alavanyo community and the entire country. May his soul rest in peace.

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