Getting the health system right

BY: Kwabena Agyei-Boahene
Getting the health system right

On Saturday, June 2, a 70-year-old man, Prince Anthony Opoku Acheampong, reportedly died in his car at the LEKMA Hospital at Teshie after he was turned away by seven different hospitals in the capital because of lack of bed. Immediately the news hit the airwaves, the government laboured in hot waters trying to manage condemnation from the public. The report provoked angry reactions from citizens who were terribly disturbed about the no- bed syndrome.

Although the Equity Act prohibits discrimination in the provision of health services in Ghana, the reverse seems to be the case. The public is very disappointed and worried because it believes social stratification is now the determining factor for accessing health care in this country. The public’s anger seems genuine because certain people who are sent to referral hospitals are denied admission because of lack of beds.

In Ghana, health is seen by many as a very important issue. This is rightly so for three possible reasons: firstly, the population is growing and people are getting worried that the current system will not be able to cater for them. Secondly, when political leaders get to the top, they become discontented with poorer services and opt for better services in rich or developed countries. Thirdly, the solution to problems involving medical facilities in this country is proving elusive. Fourthly, it is absolutely outrageous that patients should be refused treatment and be allowed to die just like that in this age.

This has become a motivation for the few rich who can seek treatment at major medical centres abroad. It has promoted a culture of medical tourism, especially among politicians. In September 2008, for instance, Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, one of Ghana’s finest Finance Minister died in Pretoria, South Africa, while seeking medical care. In 2006, Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey died in the United Kingdom (UK). Before his death in 2012, President J. E. A. Mills received several medical treatments abroad. And in January this year, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia was rushed to the UK for what government described as a medical leave.

Aside these known ones, some are also receiving medical treatment abroad on the quiet. Politicians in Ghana seem to have developed a strong preference for high quality medical care abroad. This behaviour has led to a deepening inequality. It is unthinkable that as a country, we have glossed over our healthcare system. The country’s health system cannot be described as a good one because it is in poor health. It looks impressive from outside, but decidedly shaky within. It can at best be described as being on the mend.

No doubt the public has consistently been critical of government for failing to correct the deterioration. It has raised high public expectation of the health service to deliver. It has also raised this mind-boggling question: Are Ghanaian doctors incapable of taking care of our political leaders? Ghanaian politicians seem to have developed special preference for foreign medical care. Truly, every individual has the right to decide who and where they should be treated, but not under the current circumstances where there seems to be a great imbalance in health delivery in this country.

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I have not yet recovered from my shock ever since a highly placed source at the Ghana Health Services revealed to me that the previous government sat tight for five years on a negotiation that was supposed to grant the Austrian government permission to build a 200-bed neurology facility for Korle-Bu, operate it and hand it over to the hospital after seven years.

The Health Minister, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, said on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show that “a ban on foreign treatments would amount to curtailing people’s freedom of choice.” He promised that the government was focused on improving the health system to serve as a legacy. But unfortunately, he never told us when and how this would be done. It thus behoves government to step up the challenge to be more responsive and build a system that can deliver the intervention to save patients in this country.

The Government must strive to build a health system that will motivate the next generation to be proud of current leaders when they are gone. After his numerous travels abroad to seek medical care, Prof. Mills finally died at the 37 Military Hospital. Former Vice President, Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, was also rushed to the same place although he was pronounced dead on arrival. These two unfortunate incidents are a clear proof that we can be saved by our own personnel and with better facilities.

There is one positive example we can all be proud of, the late former Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, decided to receive treatment at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital where he died. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theory of social contract should, therefore, remind our political leaders that they owe it a duty to get the health system of this country right for the benefit of every citizen.