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Remembering Susan Ofori-Atta, Ghana’s First Female Doctor Who Coined Global Malnutrition As ‘Kwashiokor’

Susan Ofori-Atta was Ghana’s first female doctor. A member of the eminent Ofori-Atta royal dynasty, Susan was also the first woman to earn a university degree in the Western African nation and the fourth West African woman to achieve that feat.

She was also the third West African woman to become a physician after Nigerians- Agnes Yewande Savage (1929) and Elizabeth Abimbola Awoniyi (1938).

Born in the Ghanaian town of Kyebi in 1971 to Nana Sir Ofori Atta I, the Okyenhene and Paramount Chief of the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area, and his wife Nana Akosua Duodu, Susan was an aunt to Ghana’s current President, Nana Akufo-Addo.

Susan’s journey to becoming Ghana’s first female doctor began within the walls of St. Mary’s Convent Elmina in Central Ghana in 1921, where she had her primary education. She would then move to Achimota School around 1929 for her secondary education.

Said to be one of the pioneer students of Achimota School, Susan was the school’s girl’s prefect in her final years and took the Cambridge School Certificate. She then studied midwifery at Korle-Bu Midwifery Training School, graduating in 1935.

Susan would then head to Scotland for further midwifery training. She returned to Gold Coast (now Ghana) after her studies in Scotland to practice midwifery at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital.

Sponsored by her dad, Susan would seek furtherance of her education at Edinburgh University Medical School and obtained an MBChB degree in 1947.

After becoming Ghana’s first female doctor, Susan would later become a pediatrician in 1960. That same year, Susan volunteered her time at the Congolese Hospital that was understaffed.

According to the historical account, Susan was nicknamed ‘mmofra doctor’ literally meaning children’s doctor during her time with the Congolese hospital, Princess Marie Louise.

She would later leave and return to Ghana to join the University of Ghana Medical School, where she was said to be a founding member of the Pediatrics Department.

After some time with the university’s medical school, Susan left to start her clinic.

A diplomat of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (1949) and the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (1958).

A member of the 1969 Constituent Assembly which drafted the Constitution for the Second Republic of Ghana, Susan was honored by the University of Ghana in 1974 with an honorary Doctor of Science for her pioneering research work into childhood malnutrition — “Kwashiokor“, a term she coined that became a medical term in the global community.

Susan was said to be active in the Catholic Church in Ghana, especially the Accra Diocese where she served as an executive member of the Federation of Association of Catholic Medical Doctors and a member of the Ghana Catholic Doctors Association.

Susan was married to E. V. C. de Graft-Johnson, a lawyer based in Accra and a close relation of Joseph W.S de Graft-Johnson, Vice-President of Ghana from 1979 to 1981.

E. V. C. de Graft Johnson held a one-man protest on a matter of legal principle outside the Supreme Court buildings in the 1960s.

Susan Ofori-Atta’s older brother was William Ofori-Atta, the Gold Coast politician and lawyer, former Foreign Minister and one of the founding leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) as well as a member of “The Big Six”.

The Big Six was the group of political activists detained by the British Colonial Government after the 1948 Accra riot, kicking off the struggle for the attainment of Ghana’s independence in 1957.

Susan’s other brother was Kofi Asante Ofori-Atta, a Minister for Local Government in the Convention People’s Party(CPP) government of Kwame Nkrumah and later Speaker of the Parliament Of Ghana. Her younger sister was Adeline Akufo-Addo, the First Lady of Ghana during the Second Republic who birthed Ghana’s current President, Nana Akufo-Addo.

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