Emmanuel Adom Winful – 20th President of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), paediatrician, husband, father, grandfather – passed away on the eve of 2016, sending shock waves through his loved ones and the medical fraternity.
I am sure that in due course, bodies such as the Ghana Medical Association, the Medical and Dental Council, the Old Achimotans Association and old Presecans will pay appropriate formal tributes. I simply wish to reflect on our warm friendship over the years and what this loss has also come to mean for me personally.
I entered the National Executive Council of the GMA as National Chairman of junior doctors in 2004. As many know, junior doctors represent the true avant garde powerhouse of the fraternity. We spoke with the courage of our convictions. We held the feet of leadership to fire. We pushed for accountability and demanded solutions for the people in whose names leaders were elected. To the cursory eye, it seemed junior doctors always had one challenge or another with the approach of senior colleagues. Two senior colleagues were exceptional both in the extent to which they proved intuitively in tune with our concerns and their sheer courage in openly expressing support for our often very logical, if even radical positions, on Council.
Eastern Division Chairman
Emmanuel Adom Winful, then Chairman of the Eastern Division, and Edward Soga, then Chairman of the Greater Accra Division, were their names. Outside of meetings, they would sit with us to share drinks, thoughts and laughter.
Sometime in 2006 or thereabout, the government defaulted on the implementation of yet another agreement. A Council meeting was summoned in Tamale. As usual, junior doctors took the hardline position that the GMA needed to respond to a robust manner. Some strong decisions with precise timelines, perhaps! Views were split; with junior doctors, Winful and Soga on one side, while others called for restraint. Seeing us win the debate, leadership baulked at a final deciding vote. Eventually, other seniors spoke to Adom Winful, appealing to him to ‘speak to the junior doctors.’ So much credibility and clout did Winful have that immediately he agreed and appealed to us to extend the period of grace for the government, we quietly acquiesced.
Over time, my conversations with Winful drifted into personal matters. Our somewhat similar backgrounds surfaced; history of long-term student leadership and activism, our common alma mater, and the rather ‘unfortunate’ matter of his being a Luggard House Prefect in Achimota instead of belonging to the powerful Livingstone House as Senior Prefect. He knew no peace from me. Even so, he held nothing back from me. He shared his early professional days at the Ridge Hospital, his decision to relocate to Mampong, how he built his house, his sheer love for Mampong and decision to remain forever, his excessive love for Benz, mutual family visits, etc.
Eventually, by the time of Adom Winful’s Presidency (2009–2013), we had totally realigned forces such that even controversial issues raised by junior doctors were not left to them alone to solve, but wholly embraced by the mother association. Finally, it appeared that the leadership of the mother body was standing up to be accounted. When Adom Winful passed away, Dr Dodi Abdallah, also a one-time leader of junior doctors, described him as the “Junior Doctor’s President.” I instinctively understood what he meant.
For a very long time, for a variety of reasons, many GMA presidents served one term only. Adom Winful broke that tradition, serving two two-year terms. Coincidentally, his tenure coincided perfectly with mine as GMA General Secretary (2009 – 2013). The achievements were many and significant, but recounting them is not my objective today. I wish only to reflect on a mutually beneficial relationship.
Working with President Adom Winful gave me great pleasure. For starters, we were totally aligned in thought and approach. Micromanaging others was neither his focus nor mine. We collectively defined objectives, set ambitious targets and supported all to flourish in their best endeavours. None of the many innovations of that era would have been possible had he been a person more concerned about who took the glory as opposed to how to serve doctors better. Always progressive, he took suggestions and criticisms well from big and small fishes alike and went to extraordinary lengths to forge consensus.
Public engagements always offered Adom Winful, myself and other colleagues an opportunity to reposition the association positively in the public health discourse. We decided to leverage a press soiree, organised to award deserving journalists, to demand reimbursement of long outstanding health insurance claims. Concerned about appearing factual and speaking on the basis of evidence, we reached out to our Divisional Chairs who promptly provided us with data on the duration and amount of claims outstanding. Winful went to town with a carefully crafted speech. Daily Graphic generously gave us the centre spread. All hell broke loose. The Health Insurance Authority gave robust responses. Overall, however, our evidence was incontrovertible and eventually, the facilities were reimbursed, thus earning the GMA some critical public plaudits as a serious broker in the scheme of things.
Public relations nightmare
Perhaps it is not possible to end my reflections without recalling our worst public relations nightmare in the course of a three-week doctors’ strike during our tenure. As General Secretary, I was always very uncomfortable whenever GMA’s press conferences assumed a tone of informality. This often happened towards the end of the event. I suppose I had seen too many instances of public gaffes by our leaders in presumably unguarded moments. In those relaxed settings, our leaders appeared to see journalists as ‘friends’ while the journalists themselves never forgot they were on duty!
And so President Adu-Gyamfi would be shocked by a headline to the effect that ‘Doctors say they know the labour laws but they don’t care!” despite not actually ever uttering these words! President Adu-Ababio would be shown on national television flinging his arms as in sacking journalists when all he had been doing was explaining his basis for declining an interview.
Shouldn’t doctors be held responsible for the patients who were going to die from our strike, a journalist asked a relaxed Adom Winful? Winful attempted to explain the challenge of attributing patients deaths solely to the industrial action, pointing out that patient deaths happened all the time in the hospital setting. By the next morning, our backs were against the wall. The rest, they say, is history. Today, I would say those headlines and the associated reportage did not do justice to the message Winful had originally sought to communicate. And for those of us who knew the care with which he engaged his patients –the children and their parents –callousness was clearly not a feature of the Winful personality.
But, it is all well and good, and we will continue to give thanks to the creator. Our condolences to Dr Sophia Winful, aka Auntie Sophia, and the children.