A Ghanaian MP’s frustrations about Ghana’s health system that’s on life support

“Our health care system has failed when a doctor fails to treat an illness that is treatable…”

A Ghanaian MP’s frustrations about Ghana’s health system that’s on life support

The legendary American actor and film producer, Brad Pitt once decided to veer off-script while musing about healthcare delivery. For a man who was travelled the world, his take was profound.

“Let us be the ones who say we do not accept that a child dies every three seconds simply because he does not have the drugs you and I have,” he famously said.

“Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right for life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold.”

In Ghana, though, many – children, adults and the aged – die almost every day for the simple reason that they were born in this part of the world.

Sicknesses and, by extension, emergencies that shouldn’t hurt a fly have unfortunately become death rows for patients in Ghana. Are we loud about it? Yes! Are we bold to speak up? Yes! Are we outraged? Maybe not enough.

The past one week has, however, seen Ghana’s failed health system become a national discourse. Tune in to any local radio or television station, and you’re likely to hear a disgruntled mother, father or sibling narrating their ordeal with the system.

Do you remember where you were last Friday, May 14, 2021? More importantly, do you remember what you were doing at around 20:00 GMT that day?

Well, at the same moment, a 12-year-old boy in Battor in the North Tongu District in the Volta region was battling for his life, a battle which he'd eventually lose two hours later.

With the boy’s condition deteriorating, his father, an Assemblyman in the Ningo Prampram constituency, had to rush him to the Battor Catholic hospital. As the small and unequipped facility that it is, they also requested that the boy be transferred to Accra for better medical care.

The case had been declared an emergency and the desperate father made several calls to the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana’s foremost referral facility, to get his child there for treatment.

Unfortunately, though, all his calls were rejected. Even more demining, he was told the hospital could not admit his son because there were no beds. This, in 21st Century Ghana!

After failed attempts to reach Korle Bu, calls were made to the 37 Military Hospital who, thankfully, agreed to admit the child. All these had happened between morning and afternoon on that fateful Friday.

By 3:00pm, the father had renewed hope and all that was left was an ambulance to transport his son from Battor in the Volta Region to the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. This, as simple a task as it sounds, became an insurmountable hurdle.

A call to the National Ambulance Service to transport the boy wasn’t successful. Rather, the ambulance guys said they could not move the child until they got their own independent confirmation from 37 Military Hospital.

“For well over five hours, they could not get anyone from the 37 Military Hospital to confirm,” these were the exact words of Sam Nartey George, MP for Ningo Prampram, as he narrated the ordeal of a father fast losing his son.

After all the efforts to transfer his son failed, the beleaguered Assemblyman reached out to the legislator for help. Unable to help on his own, Sam George also reached out to his colleague legislator Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, who is MP for the area where the Battor Hospital is located.

The two lawmakers tried to use their privilege and power to pull some strings by getting in touch with the head of the facility to facilitate the transfer of the patient.

“It became clear quickly that Battor had done all they could and it was in the hands of 37 Military Hospital,” Sam George retorted.

“Hon. Ablakwa again called a Constituent of his who is a doctor at 37 to see if he could help us. At this point we had finally gotten an ambulance on standby to convey the child. By the time we got a Doctor at 37 to get involved and give the all clear to the ambulance service, the little boy blacked out and could not be resuscitated. He died at 10:05pm.”

That is how a 12-year-old with so much promise became a mere statistic. That is how a father lost his son. And that is how Ghana’s health system once again failed.

Nobody deserves to watch their children die in this manner, especially in situations where the patient can be saved. In 2021, people are still dying in Ghana because there are no beds.

That it took the intervention of two MPs to even get an ambulance to cater for the patient highlights the sorry state of Ghana’s health system; a system that is clearly on life support.

On the morning of May 15, 2021, the day after one of his constituents had lost his son, a livid Sam George took to Facebook to express his frustrations at the system that let down a dying child who needed critical medical care.

“Should you know a big man somewhere for you to get the basic necessities? This death has really pained me. It has left me bitter at the system. It has left me angry,” he bemoaned, adding: “The Republic is indeed very sick and needs to be fixed. How much longer can we go on like this? May the soul of this little child whose only crime is to be born Ghanaian rest in the bosom of the LORD.”

These are the rants of a privileged man, a Member of Parliament in Ghana. If two of such privileged men couldn’t use the power and connections to save a dying boy, imagine how dire, hopeless and hapless the situation would be like for the trader, plumber or ordinary public servant who knows no ‘big man’ or ‘big woman’ at the top.

Indeed, it is beginning to look like it’s a crime to be born Ghanaian. Patients who walk into health centres here and walk out safely do so purely by miraculous circumstances.

Hospitals are supposed to offer hope for the sick but, here in Ghana, many dread the possibility of going under the knife. Those who have the money also do not hesitate to fly out for medical care.

Why? Because they know how messed up the health system here is, and they won’t ever risk it with their lives or that of their loved ones?

But how many Ghanaians can afford medical care in South Africa, let alone in the United Kingdom (UK) or the United States of America (USA)?

On this sad note, let’s end with a quote from renowned author Kevin Alan Lee. In his book ‘The Split Mind: Schizophrenia from an Insider's Point of View’, he notes: “Our health care system has failed when a doctor fails to treat an illness that is treatable.”

This story is part of a Pulse campaign on medical negligence. #SaveOurPulse #PulseOnMedicalNegligence

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