Sherita Brace is an international development professional and writer with an avid interest in Africa.
The State of the Medical Profession in Modern Ghana
In the not too distant past, most Ghanaians exhibited a strong sense of duty and love for their fellow man and country. The desire to contribute one's quota to the newly independent country was admirable and worthy of emulation. Of the myriad professions practised by various professionals, the field of medicine was not only noble but highly revered. The reverence conveyed by the general populace to doctors stemmed from the genuine concern and respect that was accorded to patients by doctors during that era.
Times change. Societies change. People change. Perhaps it is wishful thinking on my part for hoping that change will be for the better and not for the worse. Observing the current behavior of most doctors in Ghana, one cannot help but to draw the conclusion that the medical profession has gone through drastic changes. Unfortunately, these changes seem to be getting worse as the years go by. Most practising doctors in Ghana seem to have lost their sense of compassion and duty. Rather, their senses seem to be clouded by greed and a desire to get rich at the expense of vulnerable patients. Perhaps the case of Akosua Sitre might drive this point home.
A young woman with a bright future, Akosua was a vivacious, kind hearted and intelligent lady. One evening she returned from work, had dinner and decided to go to bed after taking a shower. As she lay her head down, she started feeling intense pain in her head. She was pregnant and assumed it was a regular headache. Not thinking much of it, she gulped down two paracetamol tablets with a glass of water. An hour went by and she still could not sleep. Reeling from the intensity of the headache, she reached out her phone to call her husband. By the time her husband returned home, Akosua's temperature had shot through the roof and she lay motionless on the bed. She had passed out. Quickly, her husband rushed her to a private clinic within their neighborhood. Suffice it to say that she was eventually referred to Kor-le-bu (Major hospital in Ghana). At Korlebu, Akosua revived. She was informed that she had a brain tumour. Also, she was told that the facility did not have modern equipment for radiation. However, despite the facility's lack of modern equipment designed for the treatment of brain tumours, the doctors were prepared to perform surgery on her if she agreed to pay the amount required. As one can imagine, the requested fee for performance of the surgery was exorbitant. Since life is precious, Akosua's family agreed to have the surgery performed. They pulled their resources together and paid the requested amount. In an efficiently managed facility, performance of the required service would have been carried out upon receipt of payment. That was not the case at Kor-le-bu.
Trials and Perseverance
After payment had been remitted, one of the doctor's informed Akosua's husband that with the exception of the cardio department, only one theater was available for use by all the other departments. As a result, his wife would not be attended to immediately since other patients had been scheduled prior to her. In addition, surgical procedures were carried out once a week. The doctor went on to state that if he wanted expedited services, then Akosua's husband would have to pay more money. As though this news was not heart-wrenching enough, this doctor also stated that a critical equipment which would be needed after the procedure was not available at the hospital. However, all hope was not lost since he would be travelling to the United States in a few days to purchase the equipment with his personal resources. He then proceeded to request additional funding from Akosua's husband for the purchase of the equipment. Once again, her family fulfilled the doctor's request.
Despite the impediments that Akosua's family faced, they did not give up and finally, she went through with the procedure. Tough as it might be for one to fathom the unimaginable, the doctors performing the surgical procedure performed yet another miracle. In the middle of the surgery, Akosua WOKE up ! How can this happen? Who was the anesthesiologist involved? Imagine Akosua's shock when she later discovered that the doctors hatched a plan during the latter part of the surgery to deposit her body at the Intensive Care Unit so that she could die over there.
In a second incident, while performing surgery on a patient, a pair of scissors was left in the patient's stomach. When this was discovered, the patient was returned to the operating room in order to have it removed. He lost his life in the process.
There are uncountable stories about malpractice committed by doctors in Ghana that have gone unpunished. In the cases cited above, no one was held accountable for the negligence displayed. For how long are the citizens going to stand by while these egregious types of behavior go unpunished? Without consequences to their actions, how can we expect change ?
What Can be Done ?
For starters, there is the need to enact policies centered on the protection of patients while preserving the sanctity of the medical profession in Ghana. The creation of standard practices such as periodic mandatory training to ensure that Ghanaian doctors become abreast of emerging theories and practices in the medical sphere will be a step in the right direction.
In addition, the formation of a body tasked with investigating medical malpractices and a legal system that applies extremely punitive measures to doctors found guilty will bring about deterrence, instill conscientiousness and result in a reduction in the rate of meaningless death. Most of the medical doctors are satisfied with the dysfunction that pervades the system since it is conducive to their nefarious activities. Enacting punitive measures will serve as a deterrent.
The government should also prioritize the medical field by investing in modern equipment and offering improved conditions of work for doctors. For instance, a working paper developed by the Center for Global Development states that , "Adequate incentives for health professionals lie more in the structure of the health care system and its financing than in limited actions that fix existing arrangements".
Individuals interested in joining the medical profession should search their hearts prior to swearing the oath. The government invests heavily in the education of doctors. It is only right that you, doctors give back to the country wholeheartedly. If for one reason or the other you are not satisfied with your conditions of work, seek progressive ways of addressing your concerns. Do not take it out out on the patients. Respect your patients and treat them with dignity. For after it is all said and done, we are all sojourners on earth. Make your work count. Try to be healers and not butchers !
To the few morally upright Ghanaian doctors out there, I say kudos to you and keep on lighting your corner.
Center for Global Development. 2006. "Governance and Corruption in Public Health Care Systems". Working Paper Number 78.
Ghana Medical Journal. 2009. "Non-disclosure of medical errors an egregious violation of ethical principles". Mar;43(1):34-9.
Fredua-Kwarteng, Y. "A Critical Gaze at Medical Malpractices in Ghana", GhanaWeb, June 7th, 2006.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Sherita Brace
Shrikant Jadhav from Pune, India on June 07, 2019:
Medical Health is universal health right of every individual and we should all strive to help the deprived.