While, indeed, it is very common in many democracies around the world to have non-specialists appointed to health departments and/or ministries, the same case/situation does not seem to apply to such ministerial portfolios as the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, as well as the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, for some ready examples. We see this apparently nonchalant state of executive affairs even here in the United States of America and in Ghana as well. Personally, I have always thought that a highly sensitive portfolio like the Minister of Health ought to manned, or “womanned,” for that matter, by a professionally trained specialist of the health sector. For at the end of the day, specialists in any particular field of endeavor tend to appreciate the demands and logistics of the field or sector concerned at a much higher level than non-specialists.
We see a striking reflection of this square-peg-in-a-round-hole syndrome in the recent curious admonishment by Ghana’s Health Minister, Mr. Kwaku Agyemang Manu, for patients to desist from unnecessarily piling up pressure on resources at the country’s flagship health center, to wit, the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), by swarming Korle-Bu with common ailments like stomach upsets and headaches (See “Health Minister Warns; Don’t Go to Korle-Bu with Headaches, Stomach Upsets” MyJoyOnline.com / Modernghana.com 7/11/18). It goes without saying that were the Health Minister a medical specialist or a doctor, he would have readily caught his gross error in judgment and promptly walked back his faux-pas, as it were. The fact of the matter, even as doctors would tell you, My Dear Reader, is that stomach upsets and headaches are essentially symptoms of illnesses.
Which simply means that they may not necessarily be what patients who come down with them may take them to be. They may actually be pointing to far more serious ailments. Which is why even here in the United States, for example, patients are often admonished not to self-diagnose or facilely invent what they suspect to be the cause or causes of their discomfort by misguidedly attaching medical terms to the same. But, of course, I also fully appreciate the original objective of Mr. Agyemang Manu for making the “cautionary” statement attributed to him by the Multimedia Group’s reporter who wrote and published the same. Mr. Agyemang Manu would rather have patients wisely access our public health resources in a manner that makes for the efficient running of these sensitive quality-of-life facilities. Which was also why satellite health centers like the Kaneshie, Adabraka and Maamobi polyclinics, among a host of others throughout the Accra Metropolitan Area, were established.
Alas, the stark reality is that most of these polyclinics are woefully under-resourced. Even major hospitals and health centers like Korle-Bu and the nine other regional hospitals are chronically under-resourced and underequipped. This may be one obvious reason why patients may prefer to access Korle-Bu as a first port of call or resort rather than a last resort or a referral center. And, by the way, contrary to what Multimedia reporter, Mr. Nathan Gadugah, would have his readers and listeners believe, our military hospitals, including the 37th Military Hospital, were established not to primarily take the pressure off the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. Rather, they were established to exclusively cater to the health needs of the men and women of the Ghana Armed Forces. Over the course of the years, however, these military hospitals have rather taken on added pressure by opening up access to the general civilian population.
The Health Minister also states that there exist several new clinics and health centers whose existence he was not made aware of in the Handover Notes passed on to him by his National Democratic Congress’ predecessor. That predecessor will be, or rather must be, Mr. Alexander Segbefia, another cabinet appointee who was not a specialist of his portfolio and who had a lot of problems managing the Health Ministry. I am not hereby saying or implying that Mr. Agyemang Manu may not be a very competent Health Minister in much the same way that he is widely known to have been very successful in the business field or the corporate world. You see, the first order of business that the Health Minister ought to have tackled ought to have been for him to order an inventory to be taken for him by the Human Resources Department of the Ministry of Health to ascertain the number of health facilities across the country, as well as the size, condition and categories of these facilities.
Mr. Agyemang Manu ought not to have relied on Handover Notes prepared for him by a predecessor who was livid and had been traumatized by the results of an election that were diametrically opposite of his avowed or pre-sworn expectation. A regime that was scandalously inundated with vindictive and scorched-earth operatives than selfless and altruistic statesmen and women. The Health Minister also offers inadvertent hints about the fact that the health sector has not always been the policy priority of previous governments over the decades. Which pretty much explains why, to-date, the government does not seem to have either been interested in or concerned about injecting massive fiscal and material resources into the upgrading of the general development of healthcare in the country.
What Mr. Agyemang Manu ought to be doing right now is to be mounting a massive public-health education campaign on the subject of preventive medicine and public or community health education. Such campaign, if successful, could significantly reduce budgetary waste thereby ensuring that whatever fiscal and capital resources that are available are put to the most effective and efficient use.
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