No medical care abroad at state expense

Hospital CARE File photo

Sat, 16 Jun 2018 Source: Enimil Ashon

I can assure you that, nobody will be found guilty in the investigations, which the Ghana Health Service (GHS) is promising, into the circumstances that led to the death of the 70-year-old man after the LEKMA Hospital and six others refused to admit him due to the lack of beds.

My cynicism goes even further: The probe may sit alright, but nothing will come out of it. Nobody will be punished.

Years ago at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, a surgeon died. He died because at the accident emergency centre, there were no nurses or doctors when the surgeon was rushed from home at dawn. They were said to be asleep somewhere.

While the surgeon’s son, a medical student, desperately ran around looking for a face mask to administer oxygen from the cylinder, a security man who knew neither him nor the father kept harassing him to go take his car away from the entrance. Finally, unable to stand the harangue of the security man, the son went back to get his car properly parked. By the time he returned, his father, one of Korle Bu’s “fine surgeons”, had died.

A probe was promised. It actually did start sitting. The process was aborted when nurses on duty that night refused to accept responsibility for the death, asking: “If you say we were asleep, where were the doctors?”

Trust me, folks: Like the Korle Bu incident cited above, the promised probe will end up in smoke if there is no small fry to be sacrificed to assuage public anger.

That is why I support the call by Kojo Akoto Boateng on the Citi Breakfast Show for a ban on medical travels by government officials, including ministers and members of Parliament (MPs), at state expense.

It is only when the so-called big men/women are made to feel the pinch of the undersized shoe that basic necessities for the care of ordinary citizens can be guaranteed.

Why do we come back from our travels to western Europe and North America, full of admiration for the system there in which ‘ordinary’ citizens sit in the same ‘tube’, tram, bus or train as MPs, university professors, etc.?

The answer is simple: The buses, trains and trams are not only available; they are decent, regular and reliable. Because legislators and policy makers use these services, they ensure, through policy and law, that they are available. Of course, these are countries where people don’t define themselves by the cars they drive.

For decades, the road from Shama to Shama Junction in Ghana’s Western Region was the dustiest, so dusty and rough we made songs about it. At Shama Junction, people who disembarked from the Omnibus Service Authority buses would be seen clothed in dust, from the hair on their head to the eyelids and eyebrows and the hairs in their nostrils.

Then one day, citizens woke up in the morning to the sight and sound of road construction. There was something about the urgency with which the state construction workers tackled their assignment. By midday, we knew why: The Head of State, General Kutu Acheampong, was expected to tour the Western Region and would make a whistle stop at Shama.

The work was completed on schedule. Acheampong did not turn up, but the Shama-Shama Junction road got tarred.

True, we cannot solve all our problems in one regime; but dear readers, won’t you agree with me that it is more critical, at this stage of our development, to put the emphasis on equipping the hospitals than paying nurses training allowances; building and equipping the schools rather than paying teacher-trainees?

Unfortunately, it is impossible for President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to eat his words, bitter as they are in his mouth now. So as short-sighted as the policy is, it will have to be retained.

Like some doctors who have become so acquainted with human suffering that their minds have become calloused, unfeeling towards pain, our ministers and MPs have become used to comfort (nay, luxury).

Ministers and MPs do not queue at Ghanaian state hospitals; they go there on appointment. When they and their relations are very ill and they “condescend” to receive treatment in Ghana, they are lifted to the VIP wards at Korle Bu and Komfo Anokye. With them, the protocols differ. Special reports on them are issued to administration daily. With them, there is no lack: Everything, from bed to drugs, is available.

Remember Flight Lieutenant J.J Rawlings on that wintry December 31, 1981 morning when his shrill voice announced the ‘Holy War’? It was in that coup broadcast that he described our hospitals as “transit camps” – transiting from life to the morgue. He expressed his disdain for a system that made it possible for the rich pregnant woman to be admitted into an air-conditioned single bed VIP ward on the sixth floor at Korle Bu while the poor slept with their babies on the bare floor.

How we hailed him! Why? Because it was the truth. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed – did not change even under him.

That is why I am starting this campaign. The hashtag is: “No improvement in our hospitals, no treatment for VIPs abroad.” No, not in hospitals where hardworking top- flight doctors such as Dr J.E Mensah, the urologist, and Professor Dakubu, that wonderful surgeon (both of Korle Bu), among others, are losing sleep and breaking their backs to ensure patient care.

Columnist: Enimil Ashon