The La General Hospital, just like the many places that the first American family visited last Saturday, was the focus of attention for many Ghanaians.

Prior to President and Mrs Obama’s arrival at the hospital at 11a.m, Ghanaians and foreigners who had come from far and near to catch a glimpse of the first African American President of the United States of America (USA) had lined up at the side of the streets.

President and Mrs Obama’s visit to the hospital was, however, not for fanfare.

Indeed, a gloomy picture was painted of Ghana’s maternal and neo-natal mortality, where recent figures from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) indicates that 450 out of 100,000 women lose their lives during child birth while 50 out of 100,000 children also die before they attained age five.

The Director-General of the GHS, Dr Elias Sory, who made these figures known to the Daily Graphic described it as terrible and one that required urgent attention.

The true picture of the country’s infant and maternal mortality rate was not known until recently, he said, adding that “once we know our stand, we can begin to take steps to amend the problem”.

The visit of President Obama and his wife, Michelle, to the hospital was consequently meant to highlight the contributions of the USA towards reducing maternal and infant deaths in the country.

The USA through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has since 1960 extended support to the country in the health sector, particularly in the area of maternal and infant health care.

Other US agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have joined the fight against malaria and HIV in the country.

The US will from October this year begin a new programme to further improve on Ghana’s healthcare delivery in three regions of the country.

Health facilities in the Greater Accra, Central and Western regions will benefit from this new programme.

In the past 10 years, the US government’s support to Ghana’s health sector has risen from 13 million to over $50 million annually.

President Obama and Michelle’s 50-minute visit to the hospital last Saturday morning brought smiles to the faces of many expectant and nursing mothers as they had a rare opportunity to interact with America’s first family.

Mr Obama expressed worry over the high level of maternal mortality in Africa as a whole and particularly Ghana.

The USAID, which will spearhead this programme, is expected to provide human resource, logistics and management information to support service delivery of the selected hospitals.

From one expectant mother to the other, President and Mrs Obama asked the mothers who brimmed with miles a range of questions.

For some of the mothers, the visit will forever remain a memorable one as Mr. Obama carried their babies in his arms.

The Minister of Health, Dr George Sipa-Adjah Yankey, the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, and the Medical Director of the La General Hospital, were present to welcome the president and his wife.

Story by Naa Lamiley Bentil/Daily Graphic