Years ago a scribe-friend wrote an article about doctors who continue to whine and whimper about their paychecks in Ghana. The article, “Ghanaian medical doctors, the ungrateful-bastards” (on Grandmother Africa), was meant to put into some perspective the salaries of Ghanaian doctors compared to doctors in the United States. The idea was that if Ghana’s doctors could be brought to appreciate the immense sacrifices that taxpayers make to train them, they would come to appreciate more their meager salaries in such a deplorable health system as Ghana’s.
However, in recent months since that article was published in 2013, some Ghanaian doctors have chanced upon it. Obviously, the facts presented there did not complement the doctors who insist on whining and griping about their salaries every chance they got. More to the issues, the tone perhaps, of the article didn’t sit well with some of the doctors who continue to insist that moaning and sniveling about their salaries is the correct way to approach fixing a broken healthcare system in Ghana.
Ghana’s healthcare system is nothing to write home about. We knew that. It is beyond broken. There’s no aspect of it that one can rise to appreciate. Is it the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital? It is better called the Korle Bu Morgue. Is it the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital? It is better referred to as the Komfo Abandonment Clinic. What’s worse? The regional hospitals are worse. The village clinics are in worse condition today than the village healing shrines were several hundred years ago.
I make the last statement with undeniable resolve. Ghana’s healthcare system is worse than any traditional healthcare system built and implemented by ethnic groups way before the first colonial African doctors were trained outside of Ghana and repatriated back to Ghana to terrorize the rest of us. For instance, just one hundred years ago any healing shrine in Ntoaboma, Volta Region, would be burned to the ground if it recorded the same death rates as Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. If any shrine or cult killed as many mothers in childbirth anywhere in traditional Africa as Korle Bu does daily (without shame), the place would be called Asamando (the Empire of the Dead). No one would ever pass it by. The grounds would be banned and left for the angry ghost to clean up!
More examples: The herbalists in any shrine in all of Asante would have been arrested and arraigned before the Asantehene if they recorded in one year alone the kind of death rates that the Komfo Anokye Hospital records daily! If 37 Military Hospital was a healing shrine in Dahomey, the Gbeto women would have been correct to call it a grave yard. Healthcare in Ghana is worse than just hundred years ago! The Ghanaian doctor today, who is educated and trained with tax payer money, is worse than his ancestor the herbalist just one hundred years ago.
Why are our healing intuitions in the twenty-first century so bad? Why do mothers die in childbirth now, when one maternal death would have dumbfounded a whole village just one hundred years ago? The answer can be found on the lips of some doctors. One, they claim it’s the deplorable conditions of the hospitals in which they work. Which is true. The conditions in hospitals are not worth picturing. Two, other doctors claim it’s the meager salaries of doctors. Some doctors claim that the salary is not enough motivation for the kind of work they ought to do to save their childbearing mothers, sisters and aunts from the yawning jaws of death.
To this end, understanding the conditions of the hospitals that Ghana’s doctors complain about is not difficult to see. A cursory visit to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital reveals a reality that if Komfo Anokye were still around, he would have undoubtedly summoned a whole nation to quickly address. Else he could not sleep. The lack of seriousness of the government of Ghana, from year to year, from election to election, in addressing such a pertinent issue in healthcare, is stupefying. With these persisting conditions come the usual pantomime of the need for more advanced technology in treating diseases. The government, some experts would emphasize, must invest in better technology. There’s very little merit to this argument however. For example, we know that good sanitation alone has contributed to eradicating more than 80 percent of diseases in the last century alone than any single technological advancement in healthcare or outside of it can claim. The point of more and more technology is mute. Cuba is a laudable example of the medical ingenuity of doctors and healthcare professionals without fancy energy–consuming, planet-killing equipment.
(Ghana’s president has vowed to use America’s drones to solve Ghana’s healthcare crisis at an exorbitant cost to the Ghanaian. The thinking is more akin to enlisting a mercenary to breastfeed your baby!)
What is baffling, however, is why the self-appointed elites (these same doctors) have been incapable of changing the topography of their workplaces? Why haven’t Ghanaian doctors and their fellow health professionals not been able to change the healthcare system in Ghana for the better? That answer lies in the ensuing issue: Some doctors claim that only with the high salaries would better hospital conditions for patients arrive for all Ghanaians. Other doctors claim that government officials (the other group of Ghana’s self-appointed elites) have failed to invest properly in healthcare. They say that only more money poured into healthcare would fix the clinics, and the hospitals. When the excuses are carefully examined, one realizes that year in, year out, it is the story of one faction of the colonially-ordained elites of Ghana pointing fingers at each other for who is more responsible for the deaths of newborns in broken incubators at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.
The fact remains, and it is indefatigable: Healthcare in Ghana is worse than it was some hundred years ago. The only thing that has changed is that we have two types of elites in charge of healthcare in Ghana, and these two are not serious about life and death: (1) the colonially ordained government clerks like the president of Ghana and (2) the colonial-mission-educated doctor. Hitherto, we had the chief, the chief priests and the herbalists. These three were much better healthcare professionals than the two groups we now have!
The old traditional health systems of all the ethnic groups could have been improved to match the changing structures of healthcare needs in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and they could have been harnessed to answer the call for the integration of disparate traditional systems within a new country. But alas! Healthcare in Ghana is worse now than one hundred years ago because we have a bunch of colonial-mission-school educated whiners in our midst who whine and grumble about conditions and salaries, and who proceed to use this excuse to oversee the mass death of innocent babies, innocent mothers and innocent lives.