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CARING FOR OUR CAREGIVERS

A few days ago, it was reported that at the direction of the President, Dr. David Abdulai of the Shekina Clinic, in Tamale, has been evacuated to Accra, for care for Stage 4 thyroid cancer. According to the Minister of Health, “The President directed the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) to evacuate Dr. Abdulai to Accra 3 days ago so he can receive optimal care. By all accounts Dr. Abdulai has rendered selfless care to the needy over many years. He therefore deserves any assistance he can get. I wish him the very best and pray for his recovery.
I also commend the President for stepping in. However, I believe that we are missing the forest for the trees in this unfortunate incident. As Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Mayor and former Chief of Staff would put it, “No crisis must go to waste”.
Dr. Abdulai’s story raises uncomfortable echoes and questions.
Why did it need the President’s intervention for the good doctor to get care? Does this mean that without the Presidential intervention, the system could not have taken care of him?
What kind of health insurance does a doctor like Doctor Abdulai has? Is it NHIS or NHIS-plus? If a medical officer with the GHS gets such a disease, would there be resources in the system to care for that person? Why was it an emergency that required air-lifting by the GAF? Could he have travelled by commercial airline and then picked up by ambulance in Accra if necessary?
Decades after the collective neglect of Dr. Mustapha and Professor Hiadzie created the Mustapha-Hiadzie syndrome to epitomize the neglect of doctors by  an ungrateful system and country, we are where we are. And that is a shame.

But this discussion need not be just about doctors. If he was a nurse or a teacher with the same years of dedicated service, would he deserve any less?

My next concern is what this says about the state of our healthcare system.
The Tamale Teaching Hospital is where President Nkrumah was taken after the Kolungugu bomb incident. It is where the first Dean of the School of Medicine in Tamale died for want of oxygen. Yet six decades after Nkrumah became a patient, the Tamale hospital cannot offer radiation? This is the country where President Mills was transported to hospital in an ambulance without oxygen and a coroner’s inquest was denied to avoid national embarrassment. We still have not learnt our lesions at it.

 
This is an issue beyond politics. Our policies and actions must match our high-minded rhetoric. Real lives are at stake here.

I have and will address once again the systemic problems of our healthcare. But it must begin with people; the people at the centre of our healthcare, the doctors and nurses.

A call to service must not mean a call to poverty and self-neglect. The levels of pre-gratia and ex-gratia shows that our politicians understand this. They must just apply this to all of us. We should solve problems through thoughtful and purposeful policies, instead of relying on state charity.
The current issue puts our entire healthcare system in an unflattering light.
Our public servants, like doctors, nurses and teachers deserve health and disability insurance that is beyond NHIS, guaranteed and accessible when needed.
Healthcare workers must never be in a position of begging for care. It must be provided by the government or whoever happens to be their employer. In addition, they should have guaranteed income for prolonged illness or injury on the job through disability benefits, provided through employment. I saw the devastation of work-related injury first hand when I met at Central Regional hospital, a Community Health Nurse who got paralysed while learning to ride a motor – bike as mandated by her employers (the government of Ghana).  She had no benefits.

While GHS officials were very sympathetic, what they did was just charity. She could not work. She had no residence compatible with her disability. She had no way of paying for her caregivers.

What happened to that nurse, Dr. Abdulai, Dr. Mustapha, Prof. Hiadzie and many others should make every Ghanaian ashamed. Too often, the public is tempted to condemn, so-called greedy professionals who demand too much. Healthcare and disability benefit for doctors and nurses is not too much to ask for, but rather the minimum and it a right. And it benefits all of us. It keeps the healthcare professionals focused on our health. It cuts down on lost work hours and increases the moral of healthcare workers.


Let our leaders address this crying need and stop the use of public resources for episodic private philantropy. And let us keep the heat on them so that they will do the right thing.


God bless Ghana.

Arthur K