Time to celebrate Ghanaian doctors is here

BY: Dr Frank Owusu-Sekyere

Doctors' Day is a day set aside by countries in honour of doctors. Recognising the important role doctors play in every society, different countries have chosen different days to highlight their own doctors.

For example, the United States of America celebrates doctors on the 30th of March each year, India celebrates its doctors on the 1st of July, and Cuba on the 3rd of December. Ghana had no such day and I think it is fitting that the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), on the 4th of January, in marking the 65th anniversary of the GMA (formed on the 4th of January) christened 4th January as the Doctors' Day in Ghana.

In launching the day, the Guest Speaker, Prof. Agyemang Badu Akosa, a past president of the GMA himself recounted the humble beginnings of medical professional groupings in Ghana.
Tracing as far back as 1933, there were three Ghanaian doctors who formed the Gold Coast African Practitioners Union because they were not welcomed by the European Doctors practising in Ghana into their association.

Just before independence, Ghanaian doctors formed the Gold Coast branch of the British Medical Association. In 1958, on the 4th of January, the GMA was born at the Ambassador Hotel in Accra under the directorship of the Prime Minister of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah himself. In order for the Ghanaian doctors to gain the needed recognition and perhaps exhibit his patriotic sense, Osagyefo said that henceforth, the GMA was the only medical association to be recognised by the Ghanaian government. GMA started with 40 doctors but has grown to over 10,000 members at present.

The foremost priority of GMA was to champion the health of Ghanaians. In this respect, the GMA championed the establishment of the Ghana Medical School for local training of medical doctors in 1962.

Today, there are five government medical schools and a few private medical schools actively engaged in training medical doctors to cater for the health needs of the good people of Ghana.
Recounting achievements of the GMA even in its infantile stages, Prof. Akosa stated that the GMA was instrumental in the establishment of the Ghana Medical and Dental Council for the regulation of medical practice in Ghana.

The GMA was also instrumental in the establishment of the Plan Parenthood Association to look at the establishment of the sexual and reproductive health of Ghanaians.

Recently, the need to create a body solely for the implementation of the Ministry of Health’s service policies led to the creation of the Ghana Health Service. Again, this was a brainchild of the Ghana Medical Association.

Perhaps what surprised us most was the revelation that the decision to start the National Health Insurance Policy was taken at the GMA House where GMA strongly challenged the opposition party then to make it a policy in their manifesto, after the then ruling party had declared it was practically impossible to roll it out nationwide after its pilot phase. The challenge was accepted and the rest is history. So if you use the NHIS card to access health, just remember to thank the GMA.

Again in stemming the tide of the then brain drain, the GMA was an avid advocate for the establishment of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons to quell the massive appetite for post-graduate specialist training mostly done abroad.

The GMA did not stop there, Prof. Akosa continued, “ The GMA advocated for the establishment of the Ghana College of Pharmacists, the Ghana College of Nurses and Midwifery and the Ghana College of Health Administrators- two of which have now been established and contributing their quota to the development of this country.

Fittingly then, the National Doctors Award Scheme has been instituted in collaboration with the MTN Foundation to honour hardworking and deserving doctors on Doctors' Day --- the 4th of January every year.

The idea of Doctors’ Day initially came from the need to honour what doctors do for humanity. It is the hard work, commitment, dedication and patience that helps us sustain life on earth.

Doctors' Day should be special if for nothing at all, because on a daily basis, doctors place the lives of millions of people ahead of theirs. The recent COVID-19 outbreak lends credence to this as doctors and other health workers tackled the COVID-19 pandemic head-on.

This came at a time when doctors and other health professionals were dying on a daily basis as they looked after sick people with the disease. Doctors are among the best soldiers in the world and merit celebrating.

To me, Doctors' Day in Ghana is long overdue. Why? The amount of time a doctor simply spends in a lifetime taking care of patients and the guts it takes to do surgery is something scary and unimaginable to many human beings. Not that many people can withstand the sight of blood but doctors brace through them to perform countless hours in surgery.

Doctors must be our superheroes without capes who not only relieve physical pain but also provide us with mental assistance to issues that really matter. Their resilience, patience, sympathy, dedication, craft and many other qualities should put them on a high pedestal.

That’s not all that doctors do. They are also in the forefront of research to help not only to treat patients better but to help us understand certain events and occurrences better.

Why should doctors be celebrated in Ghana?

There are so many dedicated and hardworking doctors in Ghana who give their all to the nation without any recognition. Doctors are working in “one-man stations” so called because these facilities are manned by one doctor who works all year round. To such doctors, taking a restful leave is a luxury beyond their imagination because then there would be nobody to cater for the health needs of these communities. Till they drop dead, they continue to work and put the life of others ahead of theirs.

Have we not heard of doctors operating and doing deliveries with torch lights? What about the mosquito-infested wards and consulting rooms that doctors work in? And oh!

The staggering doctor to patient ratio which is even worse as we move from the national and regional capital cities to the hinterlands?

Doctors continue to work in conflict areas, areas with poor schools for their children and worse of all, having to dig our hands deep into our pockets to buy life-saving medications and investigations for the poor and vulnerable in society.

Most doctors in Ghana have rejected the obvious attraction from other countries to put their people first. The perennial threat of strike for better conditions of service- as irritating to many Ghanaians as it may be - needs to be supported by all to ensure that the few that we have stick around.

Nothing could portray a better zeal to fight for a better life here in Ghana instead of joining the bandwagon of the teeming workers leaving the shores of Ghana for greener pastures.

Why should this not be celebrated? Even more important in our quest to celebrate doctors is the fact that these little appreciations do go a long way to motivate other young doctors to stay and continue to help in nation building.

A little recognition here and there may be all that it takes to stem the brain- drain pro max, currently in full swing.

Doctors are also at the forefront of research to find better ways to remain healthy. Vaccine production and roll out, bloodless surgeries, transplant programmes are but few improvements in health occasioned by research.

So, do you think doctors in Ghana should be celebrated as is done in other jurisdictions? If you think they should be, then how many doctors can you appreciate? I have my list. Let me see yours.

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A member of Paediatric Society of Ghana