Ama Sumani: The Real Lessons That Were Ignored

Fri, 7 Mar 2008 Source: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Ama Sumani’s story is emotional and critically serves as a stark reminder of how bad governance in the past and now, continues to do us in. Her name is Ama Sumani and she hails from Zabzugu in the Northern region of Ghana. The Northern region is one of the poorest and neglected places in Ghana. She has two children who live under the care of her church and by all means qualifies as a proud Ghanaian mother. She first went on a visit to England and then changed her visa to that of a student’s. Unable to cope with the course work, apparently ill-prepared, she dropped out of sight and found work underground. Unfortunately, she was forced out of her underground status by cancer. Her Kidneys, damaged and requiring expensive dialysis treatment, she found her way into the British health care system. Sooner or later, the British authorities (Cardiff Wales) caught up with her and sent her back to Ghana. She begged not to be sent to her land of birth for it will become her land of untimely death. How sad can it get and who caused it? As far as the Brits were concerned, she not only violated immigration law but also committed an illegality by using their healthcare system meant for paying British citizens and legal residents.

Make no mistake, this is indeed a very sad story. I will do no different if I found myself in her shoes. Indeed, her gripping story has stroked all kinds of emotions. The British have been cursed and called all kinds of despicable names, racist not the least, for enforcing their laws with pixel precision. Obviously, Britain wanted to send a message to would be violators that they will be dealt with ruthlessly. Though callous from a point of view, what the British did was to apply reinforcement theory. They realize that, the way you weaken behaviors like Ama’s, is not to reward it, death notwithstanding. Otherwise, if news gets around that the British health care system has become a gravy train for illegal residents, and it may already have, the system could come under further strain. Whether Ama should have been deported or left alone will be debated ad infinitum. On all sides, good arguments have been made. As far as I am concerned, the responsibility of taking care of Ama lies squarely with the government of Ghana. And if I am a Brit, given the lavish and decadent expenditure of the current regime, I will be hard pressed to be sympathetic towards the government. The issue for me is not whether Ama Sumani deserves care or not! The issue is whose responsibility should her care be, given that she is morbidly sick? I say the government of Ghana! If we can afford luxury cars and endless birthday parties, we must be able to take care of the likes of Ama Sumani. There are many of them in Ghana dying needlessly! How many more will have to die while this annoying charade continues? Have we no shame or conscience?

Among some of the harshest critics of the forced removal of Ama Sumani were Ghanaians from all walks of life. For some, it was a great opportunity to vent their spleen on their former colonial masters who stole from them. I refuse to work a sweat in the latter direction. Instead, I thought then and continue to believe now, that, this is a good opportunity to go after the health care system in Ghana. Particularly, the wicked elite who ignorantly forge half baked policies that continue the contorting and convulsion of the depleted health care system. If Ghana had a fundamentally sound healthcare system, will Ama Sumani, a proud Ghanaian, be begging her slave masters not to send her home? Ama’s case, reminds us sternly about the spineless and dour Ghanaian healthcare system reserved for the masses, while the elite seek care overseas. In this day and age, is it too much to require our government to provide dialysis machines for affordable care in every region of the country? Is it too much? We tolerate mismanagement and wickedness in high places in our own country but misguidedly find it convenient to go after others for not being kind to us? How about being kind to ourselves first? Must charity not begin at home?

Let me make my point with a few telling examples. President Kufour gets his check up outside the country. He has a dedicated ambulance traveling with him everywhere he goes within the country. Alui Mahama’s wife was sent overseas for health care and her fees paid for by the government. Asamoah Boateng was ferried in a plane to South Africa for treatment when he was in an accident. Ala Adjetey was given nearly $15,000 dollars to seek care in Ireland when he was speaker of parliament. Indeed, it was widely reported that, one of the reasons for the fallout between Kufour and Rawlings has to do with Kufour’s refusal to provide money for Nana Konadu’s (Wife of Rawlings) health care overseas while she was no longer the first lady. If she is demanding care even when her husband is out of office, can you imagine what she got when they had total and unfettered control? Yet such self centered folks remain the heroes in our land. And my friends, this is just the tip of the iceberg!

There is no doubt that Rawlings was getting healthcare overseas when he was president. While at the VRA, Ahwoi is alleged to have sought healthcare overseas at the expense of the organization. The list goes on and on and on. Why do we tolerate such? Why should the tax payers be confined to a deplorable healthcare system locally, a death trap if you ask me, yet their civil servants, unfettered, seek quality healthcare abroad? Must we tolerate the practice of having policy makers live outside the structures that they create? Liken this to what I call the “siren phenomenon” that speckles Ghana. If these ministers have to live or endure the traffic snarls like all of us, don’t you think some sort of solutions would be found to the unbearable gridlock that hallmarks every corner of Accra and other cities? The way out is to force these panjandrums to live in the system that they create and supervise, not above it. So, if Rawlings creates the JSS/SSS system, his kids should be the first to enroll in the system. They should not be educated overseas by a mysterious friend. You get my drift? If Kufour imposes taxes, let his no tax mandate be repealed from the constitution. Who feels it must surely know it!

What really got my dander on Ama’s issue was the attitude of our media and other well meaning but shortsighted folks. When such difficult issues arise, the tendency is to veneer over it and let our authorities off the hook. What did we do? Led by the media, we raised and continue to raise money for Ama’s care! Some have donated money and others continue to call on the British government to bring her back. Friends of Ama are in Ghana to plead for her return to England. While all this looks good on the surface, it is hypocrisy at best. How many people in Ghana have either same or similar situations like Ama Sumani but are not getting care? How many of them are dying like flies? Where is their fundraising drive? Indeed, if Ama Sumani was not lucky enough to have her ailment discovered in England, she would have died quietly without the fuss that we experience currently. I think the media has been awfully negligent in this case, by not asking the relevant questions and taking these wicked tricksters, tagged leaders, to task. The real issue is the decadent health care system that most Ghanaians lives under today. The system is rotten and no good. It is not good in quality and access for majority of the people. This is the real issue that Ama Sumani’s plight should have brought to the fore. But again, the media threw dust into the eyes of the people and covered up shamelessly for the wicked elite they dine with. Who is doing the bidding for the masses? Certainly not the media!!

Now, let us contrast the dire healthcare system in Ghana to the decadent spending of the current government. The government is building a 64 million dollar presidential mansion yet most regions in Ghana do not have a dialysis machine! I learnt while in Ghana recently that there are executive mansions at Aburi (Peduase), Akuse, Akosombo in addition to the new presidential mansion. Now, parliament is calling for its own largesse and the president has promised to see them through. What is wrong with us? We can’t afford dialysis machine but can afford elaborate and colorful protocols just to listen to boring speeches from the president and his likes? We can afford to pay the president an alleged $3000 per diem per travel but cannot buy a dialysis machine to benefit a whole region? Add what the ministers and others are raking in and you will buy dialysis machine for all the regions in a heartbeat. The kind of profligacy that exudes from this government shows a blatant disregard for the plight of the ordinary Ghanaian. It is as if these wicked pranksters have no knowledge of the dire needs of the masses and the mounting cost they face to get care when sick.

This government spent millions of dollars on luxury cars, likely to have been quietly sold at hugely discounted prices to cronies and party faithfuls, yet, most regions have no dialysis machine. We are still celebrating Ghana@50, yet most regions have no dialysis machine. We are running a results-averse and obese bureaucracy yet most regions have no dialysis machine. We continue to run gas guzzling SUVs yet most regions have no dialysis machine. Government officials continue to use government cars for private trips but we cannot afford a dialysis machine for all to use? MPs get loans at favorable rates yet we can’t find loans to buy dialysis machines that will serve the poor masses like Ama Sumani. As this profligacy unfolds, our doctors continue to flee the country like bats out of hell. Some of those that continue to stay have found ways to perverse the existing system. It is not unusual to be referred to the private practice of a doctor you consult with in the public system. Failure to snap in line could mean instant death or rotten care leading to death. The only way to kill this nonsense is to force all these so-called leaders to find health care within the system that they supervise. We must stop in all shapes and forms, health care funding for leaders outside the system that they create and supervise. If they start dying needlessly in the system, it will change in a heart beat. Until then, why should they care about you and me? Why can’t these so called leaders understand that people don’t choose to be sick? Why can’t we make health care a damn right? Yes, a right not a privilege as it currently exists!

For far too long, we’ve tried to hand over our problems to others. When they push back, we call them names and throw a huff. The vivid vignette of our attitude is what plays out in the form of a contorted healthcare system in Ghana. A healthcare system that works for the rich and leaves the poor with no option but untimely death. Cash and carry is still in full force but camouflaged with this national healthcare canard. The national health care system faces enormous challenges in both financing and management. Already, most private practices shy away from cardholders and if this continues, our healthcare future looks invariably bleak! It is time that we get serious with healthcare so that we may all choose to die in our beloved homeland. Yes, it’s a great honor to die where your umbilical cord is buried. Fix Ghana’s healthcare now and stop the growing profligacy of the wicked elite that rule mindlessly! Why can’t we understand that healthcare is critical to development? Why?

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Also known as the Double Edge Sword).

I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think its hell—Harry Truman

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka