Bravo to the Leadership of our Junior Doctors: Sorry the Baby Died

Sun, 1 Apr 2012 Source: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

A recent news item on Ghanaweb reported that a baby died because of a strike by our junior doctors. It was reported that a baby was taken to Tafo Hospital then subsequently rushed to Akomfo Anokye hospital only to meet the grim fate of striking doctors. It is extremely sad and totally unacceptable that any child should die needlessly. If this strike caused the death of this child, a fact that cannot be easily proven, it is indeed unfortunate and could have been avoided. I think it is fair to say that attributing the death of the child to the strike is speculative at best. There is nothing to say or show that when a doctor sees yours child, he or she will survive or live. Indeed, a hospital, devoid of basic amenities, is more of a death trap than it is a bastion of hope. Also it is pathetic and untenable to attack the doctors. All guns should be blazing at our misguided self serving leaders. Those leaders spending our limited resources on wrong priorities. This issue should never be about who funded the education of these brave doctors. No way!

Having said all the above, I think it is worth probing beyond this single incident. The fact is that other babies have died because of the situation that called for the strike. It is also a fact that other grown-ups and innocent people continue to die in our callous healthcare system. Never mind the flailing and ineffective NHIS system. We are precariously creating a Darwinian healthcare system that caters to the rich while the poor suffer needlessly. Yet even the rich die needlessly due to the frailties of our healthcare system. A hospital without needed inputs is like a human body without life. Our so called leaders have their priorities wrong and continue to live above and outside the very system that they create and lord over. Hold them responsible!!

For the life of me, I can’t understand how our leaders don’t get it. People don’t choose to be sick. Yes, some of the sickness can be avoided. However, the time to blame anyone is not when they fall sick and desperation sets in. When people get sick, they need care! No questions asked! This is what civilized societies ought to do. It just boggles my mind that Ghana can spend money on all kinds of meaningless endeavors but cannot provide healthy hospitals for its people. The latter situation is not caused because of a lack of resources. The resources are there but our priorities are simply messed up. This just does not make an iota of sense. It beats my imagination that the people of Ghana continue to take it on the chin. Without a healthy population, what use is the country?

Make no mistake about it! I applaud the junior doctors for taking a stand. So long as this effort is about the hospital/people and not their own greedy inclinations or proclivities, we all have to rally behind them. Perhaps arrangements could have been made for emergencies. This way, babies won’t die. The latter notwithstanding, these doctors ought to be commended for standing up. It will be unfortunate if some try to politicize the death of this innocent baby. If these doctors don’t stand up now, how many more innocent babies will we lose now and in the near future?

Trust me, this situation poses a headache for any ethicist worth his or her salt. Sure, if it was my child, I will be screaming mad. Yet, I will be lying if I tell you that I am not for doctors standing up now so more lives could be saved going forward. Perhaps I am being more utilitarian than I am Kantian. Yet, most decisions, affecting large number of people, tend to have key utilitarian consideration alongside others. I believe we are at a juncture, where some of us, have to realize that, rather sadly, it takes sacrifices to make things better. History clearly shows, that, all the societies we currently admire, were/are built on sacrifice. There is no lasting glory without a struggle. We must stand for something or fall for anything. Ghanaians must continue to die a little for their country. I know we’ve sacrificed enough but now is not the time to relent. Let us collectively push on!

This commentary will not be complete without touching on the issue of leadership specifically. I am going to harp on Ashanti region because that is where the incident occurred. I know all of the issues involved in this case can be identified in any region in Ghana. I am just using Asante region as a glaring example. Take for example, leadership in Ashanti region. At the political level, it has been nothing but poor. Often, the regional ministers, appointed along tribal lines, fail to provide anything meaningful. How else do you explain the sad state of a region that is overly endowed with immense natural and human resources? We have to stop appointing ministers based on tribe. This goes for all regions. There is no doubt, that, most, if not all of the problems we face currently, stem from bad leadership. We must resort to competency and potential based appointments instead of tribe and sometimes birth rights. Until we get this leadership jigsaw right, our trudge will remain long and hard. Leadership is where are pixel precision focus should be and remain. Yes indeed!

If you try traditional leadership, it’s gets worse. The Asante chief, like most, if not all the chiefs, has abandoned his people. Supporting your people should not be parochially limited to having rich durbars and making highfalutin feel good proclamations. I know some of our brothers and sisters will not take this kindly but the truth must be told. Why is the Asantehene not showing any interest in shoring up Okomfo Anokye hospital instead of having his kids overseas? Is he above his people and all those who have their kids at KATH? He now owns gargantuan houses outside his homeland aimed at supporting his healthcare and recreational activities. Should the chief live high on the hog? If the Asante chief cannot make sure that his people have great healthcare facilities, who would or should? What is he doing with all the royalties? Why is the chief not marching with the doctors? Is selfishness a true feature of chieftaincy? If not, since when did chieftaincy become such a selfish and self-serving endeavor? Were we not told that chiefs are supposed to seek and protect the interest of their people? What use really is a chief? Is a chief a leader or just a self-serving figure head? What use really is a glorified chief who seeks his own interest at the expense of this people?

If the chief does not use the local hospital, why would he bother with it? How would he know the difficulties at the hospital? It is one thing to show tribal loyalty and obey your chief. However, such blind obedience is patently dangerous. Now is the time to question authority. Love chieftaincy if it butters your bread but surely hold it responsible for the bad cholesterol. You do society no good by blindly hailing culture, tradition and heritage when these traditional systems fail to provide any meaningful leadership at the local level. Should we follow the money?

What is the Asantehene doing with the royalties that he collects on behalf of his people? Could part of these royalties be channeled into healthcare in Kumasi? No amount of glorification of a chief will stand, so long as his people suffer immensely. The poverty that marks this resource filled enclave of Ghana is a clear sign that leadership is sorely lacking. What really is pride and heritage if the people continue to suffer and die needlessly? There is something deeply wrong with our system and all levels of leadership that adorns it. Now is the time to look at leadership at all levels vis-à-vis the catastrophic and emblematic paralysis that ails it. Let us support these junior doctors to make the system better. We must invest now and reap the benefits later. We need more of such brave resistance to change the system. This is surely why we need a civil revolution. The current system is not working and it will take shaking up the leadership status quo at all level to make progress. Aluta continua!!

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

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

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka