Kirk gains awards nomination for highlighting human rights abuses of Ghanaian dementia patients

A University of Northampton student is up for an award after producing a radio documentary that shines a spotlight on human rights abuses carried out on people with dementia in Ghana.

Instances of elderly dementia sufferers in the West African country being accused of witchcraft, assaulted and burned alive are highlighted in Kirk Asiedu’s Matters of the Mind: Attitudes Towards Dementia.

Kirk’s affecting documentary – which you can listen to here – which also sees him talk about his Ghanaian family’s own experiences of dementia, has been recognised as one of the best examples of student journalism in the UK, after being nominated for Best Radio Documentary in the Broadcast Journalism Training Council Awards.

In the documentary, which he made in the final year of his Multimedia Journalism degree, Kirk compares the advanced level of support and care those with dementia in the UK, with the dearth of support provided in his homeland of Ghana.

Kirk’s auntie, who brought him up from when he was a toddler until he was four years old, has dementia, and thanks to family in England, is provided with a level of support. Her situation could be much worse, as Kirk found out after speaking to Dr Dennis Bortey, president of the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorder Association of Ghana.

Dr Bortey told Kirk: “People are victimised and stigmatised for their condition. When they turn 60 and things happen to their brains, and they start to forget things and their behaviour changes, and people start to call them a witch or a wizard. There are many cases where people are beaten, have petrol poured on them and are burned, for having memory lapse.”

Dr Bortey concludes that Ghanaian attitudes towards dementia need to be changed by educating children about the condition, and from there, he hopes treatment and support will become mainstream in the country.

Kirk, who graduated in July, said: “To be recognised with this nomination gives me a huge feeling of accomplishment, in that the story I set out to tell, and the style in which I told it, is being recognised in a national competition.

“I would love to win the award, which should hopefully push the story even further and get it noticed – when you hear about what people are going through in Ghana, it’s heartbreaking, so I hope the documentary can help to raise awareness and help to improve the situation.”

Kirk added: “The documentary affected me, emotionally, quite a lot, because dementia is so close to home for me – it’s affected my auntie and my wider family. My auntie is the person who raised me from when I was a toddler, before I came to this country and reconnected with my mum at the age of four, so it made me very emotional, especially because of how the way people with dementia can be treated in Ghana.”

Kirk dreads to think what would have happened to his auntie, if she didn’t have the support of her family.

He said: “After speaking to Dr Bortey, it’s clear that if she was on her own, my auntie would have been left to care for herself, probably on the streets. She wouldn’t have the ability to fend for herself, I mean, would she remember or know how to eat, and clean herself.

“She’d be looked down upon by society, which is happening to dementia sufferers all the time in Ghana and other developing countries, right now.

“I just hope my documentary will mean people become aware of what’s going on and lend a helping hand to others, and help them to receive the care they deserve.”

Deputy Dean at the University, Kate Williams, who supervised Kirk’s radio project and is herself a BBC Radio broadcaster, said: “Kirk showed a professionalism and maturity in his approach to a difficult subject area, telling the story from a very personal point of view. I am delighted he has been shortlisted for this prestigious award.”

She added: “Our Multimedia Journalism course is accredited by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council and for one of our students to be nominated in their annual awards is fantastic news.”

Kirk will find out if he has won the award at a ceremony in London on Tuesday 12 November.

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