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Our President’s Medical Trip Abroad and What It Could Mean To us

Tue, 19 Jun 2012 Source: Berko, George

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When I read the Article entitled: “Akuffo-Addo Wishes Mills Well” on Ghanaweb.com, on June 17, 2012, which reported that the Opposition Leader, Nana Akuffo-Addo, had wished our President the best of luck on the latter’s trip abroad for Medical Check-up, it quickly came to my mind that it wasn’t very long ago since Nana, himself, was reported to have taken a similar trip. I wonder if President Mills wished Nana well on his trip, too.

However, it is not the expectation of reciprocal exchange of pleasantries among our leaders that drove me to write this piece, but rather, the realization that it has long been the trend for our Politicians to seek Medical care abroad, sometimes at short notices or clandestinely. I wanted us all to explore the possibility that these trips could reflect on the Medical/Health Policies that our Political leaders and Governments formulate and implement for us, in Ghana. It may well be that they all pay for such trips and the Medical care out of their own pockets. Therefore, I do not intend to raise any qualms about the right of the President, as well as any other Citizens, to go anywhere around the World for the very best of Medical care they could afford to save their lives.

I, however, perceive that the idea that our Political leaders would always have to go abroad for 'Medical Check-ups', in and of itself, indicts our Leaders for perpetual negligence of our Medical/Health situation at home, and underscores the need to make our Healthcare a top priority for improvement by all Governments.

It is worrisome to me, almost embarrassing, that year in and year out our Presidents, Opposition leaders, Ministers, MPs and even some Traditional leaders have to go overseas to seek such Medical attention, not even emergency treatments that involve specialized procedures that are uniquely available in those Countries.

This compels me to ask the question: "How many ordinary Ghanaians have that privilege to be able to travel abroad for such Medical care, and why haven’t we developed our Medical/Health System enough to curtail such trips?" Quite recently in this very year, we have had a number of strikes by some of our Medical personnel, Doctors, Nurses and others, protesting against the Government’s lack of attention to their plight and the infrastructural inadequacies in the Hospitals. Be it that the strikes were on Salary adjustments, or lack of Medicines in the Pharmacies, the problem of our deplorable Medical condition is right up in our face, stark naked. We might not like to look at it, but we can hardly take our eyes off it. The simple undeniable truth is that had we steadily done enough to improve upon our Medical facilities, and working conditions of the Medical Personnel, our Political leaders would not have to spend the time and money to travel overseas for all their Medical check-ups and treatments. I do not remember the last time I heard the Heads of State of China, Brazil, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Cuba or India run out of their Countries for Medical check-ups in some other foreign Nation. Meanwhile, we are yet to classify any of those countries among the developed Nations of the World. Yes, I sense someone quibbling that Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has been doing so, too. Okay, I concede to that fact. But so do I hear someone else mention also that Chavez only wanted an excuse to see his dear pal, Fidel Castro, who has been incapacitated himself and domiciled for a while. But seriously, so, what has kept Ghana from keeping her Presidents out of the routine lists of Patients of foreign Hospitals? Ironically, we have even been receiving both Doctors and Medical training from Cuba of all places, for decades. Why haven’t we sufficiently closed the gap between us and these other Nations on the Medical front to proudly treat our own Heads of State of their sicknesses at home, all these years? The simple off-handed answer would be too much corruption in our System. Nevertheless, with that cloud of corruption hanging over us, we have made some significant strides in a few areas of our governance, and I think something as basic and vital for our sheer existence as Healthcare should have been among that few. It has been one step forward, and two steps backward with our Healthcare. The Kufour-led Health Insurance program, for example, has now been reported to be falling apart; and the strikes by our Health workers don’t speak highly of the status of the System. Should we just throw our hands in the air and claim as have gone majority of our developmental programs, so goes the Medical/Health System? It impinges on our leaders’ real care for the ordinary Masses.

The Medical/Health situation captures the entire landscape of the Political behavior and nature of our Politicians. The persistent lagging of our Medical/Health System and the Politicians’ tendency to jump on the earliest Plane to fly out of the country to seek the best Medical care, while our Hospitals languish in abject deprivation expertly portrays how our leaders really don’t care for the ordinary folks. I consider that as a grave betrayal of our Nationhood by our leaders. I consider that as a shameful misuse of our hardworking folks whose productivity annually goes to shore up our foreign exchange reserves used to provide for these trips by our Politicians abroad. It is morally wrong to, so blatantly, ignore the Health and Medical conditions of the very people whose sweat churns the concrete that strengthens our Economic structures earning the Foreign Exchange that the elites depend on for their luxurious living and better health. I would suggest that the President makes it a test of his Christian faith to do for the poor Masses in our Health and Medical System as he would have for himself and his peers in Politics, knowing that the People’s good health is the most fundamental requirement for our Nation’s survival.

Our Medical/Health System must, immediately, be at the very top of our priorities for adequate funding, along with Education. Let the Woyome’s and CPs go burn the Sea; they need to wait for their lost documents and signatures to resurface to determine the legitimacy of their claims. But the our Hospitals, Health Clinics, Pharmacies and their Personnel shouldn’t be kept waiting in despair. If I had my way, I would request that our Politicians desist from traveling abroad for any Medical procedures other than real Emergency until all our Hospitals are in top shape to serve all Patients and our Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists, Radiologists, and other Medical Staff are financially catered for. A certain accepted minimum standard of quality for our Medical/Health facilities and Personnel and their working conditions must be guaranteed, and that should be adequate for the provision of most of the Health and Medical services prevailing in those Nations the Politicians run to for their Medical refuge.

Without underestimating the need to keep our Heads of State in top fitness to carry the burdens of the Nation on their shoulders successfully, I strongly believe it is time we began to wean ourselves off such foreign Medical attentions. Not only do they cost us humongous amounts, they psychologically serve as a disincentive for our Leaders to embark upon programs that would make our Medical/Health system excel. Our Medical Staff, especially the Doctors and Nurses, are not adequately cared for and supported to improve their skills, or expand their careers into specialized fields. We don't have enough experts in other supporting areas, like Radiology. And even if we do, we don't have the necessary infrastructure to enable these experts perform at their best. We under-fund our few Specialized facilities for Healthcare like the Cardiac Center, and we do poorly in funding Research by our own experts in Medicine.

How distant is the truth from the notion that our Politicians simply intentionally ignore our Health System to retain one more excuse to make these trips abroad that seem to have some sickly prestige attached to them? Is such a privilege an indication of our over-indulgence of our Politicians, if the State has to meet the cost, fully or in part? And even if the State doesn’t foot the bill, does that phenomenon reflect some self-aggrandizing attitude of our leaders’, given that our Society still maintains overseas travels as prestigious, whatever the purpose? In these days of fast increasing cost of foreign exchange to Ghanaians, I would have wished that our local Medical providers were adequately equipped to treat all of us at home to save us the financial expenditure abroad. In a Capitalist Democracy, as we aspire to deepen for our Nation, everyone has the right to choose where, in the World, to seek Medical Care. But at this stage of our majority Citizens’ level of poverty, it seems, in the very least, highly insensitive to ignore their poor Medical/Health access while routinely seeing these elites fly out to seek better health outside.

While I wish the President the best of luck for his health, I hope he would, when resting from his Medical Examinations, take a few moments to ponder on how he could do more to help the millions of Ghanaians, too, to get something close to the excellent Medical care he and others in his lofty position get abroad. Even if these leaders largely use their own resources to provide this kind of foreign Medical care overseas, the fact remains that the ordinary Ghanaians also need such care, poor or rich. Meanwhile, we all know high-level Government Officials would always utilize some State resources for private trips abroad. The bodyguards, and convenience catering services to ensure the President's comfort and safety, for example, all add to our financial burden as they are largely paid for by the State.

Finally, unless dying abroad is now an added element to the list of prestigious things Ghanaians wish to be associated with their achievements, I would rather wish we all give up our last breath at home, among our loved ones, our supporters, our fellow Citizens. At least, the hefty cost of transporting the corpse back home would be prevented, unburdening the surviving family with additional debt, or denying the dead a burial among their loved ones, and adding to the pain of their loss.

Long Live Ghana!!

Columnist: Berko, George