You know what, something has been bothering me for a while. I think this is the right time to bring it up. My fellow Ghanaians, our choices are killing us. And by killing us, I mean causing actual deaths.
What am I talking about? Well, according to the President’s recent 210-page scrapbook, Accounting to the People, 73% of childbirths now take place in a Health Facility. And that figure is set to grow, as the government throws millions dollars into building teaching hospitals, regional hospitals, district hospitals, institutional hospitals, polyclinics, health centers and CHPS compounds.
Altogether, 1,643 health facilities, all in the pipeline. All this is expected to cost us about $1.5billion. That’s GHC6billion. Of course, I have not added the interest we will pay on whatever loans we secure to fund these projects.
6 billion Ghana cedis to build new health facilities.
But here’s my question: If we want to invest 6 billion Ghana cedis in healthcare, why aren’t we using it to staff and equip the existing facilities? There are people dying in these places because we can’t provide basic equipment, drugs or doctors for the hospitals and polyclinics we already have. And I’m not talking about villages.
Right here in Accra! So today, a man has lost his wife. The mother of his four children. The breadwinner of the family. His best friend and partner since High school – all because their local polyclinic had no gynecologist, all because the medical director – the only doctor catering for the entire Madina suburb – is almost fresh out of med school and didn’t even get the chance to examine her? All because there was no ambulance? How? How can a mother, in this day and age, die of ruptured uterus in Accra?
Not too long ago, a doctor friend of mine told me about a patient of his in Korle Bu, who had such high blood pressure during pregnancy that she started to gasp for breath like an asthmatic patient. That woman died because the hospital didn’t have a medication called Sublingual Nifedipine.
Guess how much one life-saving dose of that medication costs today: less than one cedi. A pregnant woman lost her life and her child because of one cedi.
And you see, these things happen because we don’t learn. Do you know of the civil service clinic? It’s right there at the ministries. It’s supposed to serve all the senior civil and public servants who work at the various ministries and state agencies in that area. It’s the nearest health facility to the Accra Sports Stadium. When the May 9 stadium disaster happened, none of the victims were sent there. Why not? Well, because they had neither the equipment nor the personnel to deal with emergencies.
Just a year or two ago, the PA of a high profile public officer collapsed at work in the Ministries. They rushed her to the Civil Service clinic. While unconscious, she threw up. Now, medically, this is usually no big deal at all. All you need is a suction machine to suck out the regurgitated substances from the throat, so the patient doesn’t choke on their own vomit. A suction machine costs something like $100. That’s GHC400. The government can’t afford a 100 dollar piece of machinery to save lives at the Civil Service clinic, but they can afford to build a $250m hospital extension at Ridge?
And who is going to work in Ridge hospital anyway? We currently have a shocking deficit of doctors in this country.
In June 2014, it was estimated by the Ghana Health Service that every doctor sees, on average, 15,259 patients a year. That is insane, but it’s true! There are districts that don’t even have doctors, let alone specialists. Today, we know that Comfort died because there was no gynecologist at the polyclinic. In the North, doctors are like Gold Dust – you almost never see two of them in one place. Yet, the government is building all these shiny new hospitals while the old ones are understaffed. How are we going to solve THAT problem and also find staff for these GHC6billion worth of new ones? Meanwhile, right here in the centre of Accra, people are dying because we can’t afford a GHC400 suction machine.
And you see, this is why I say we never learn. This May 9 disaster happened in 2001, people. 15 years ago. The sports stadium is still hosting sporting and entertainment activities. Nobody has considered it of strategic importance to equip or expand the Civil Service clinic, so when this poor PA was brought there, choking on her own vomit, they didn’t have a single suction unit to use on her. The poor woman lay there unconscious until she drowned in her own vomit and died. Because of a GHC400 piece of equipment.
Meanwhile, over the years, we have somehow found money to build hotels, fund lavish Independence Day celebrations, brand buses with our campaign messages and give interest-free loans to our friends to pay back whenever they like. Or if they don’t want to pay, they can just take us to court…
But then again, why should we expect them to care about Civil Service Clinics? Their doctors are in South Africa…
Yesterday, I told you about my Uncle who died of kidney failure. Actually, let me correct that. He died because there was no dialysis machine to put him on when his kidneys failed. The Central Regional Hospital now has 10 of them, and that makes them the second largest dialysis centre in the country. So you can imagine the abject shortage of these machines across the nation. Meanwhile, a whopping 10% of all hospital admissions in the country are kidney related.
Now let me explain why our choices as a nation are killing us. A dialysis machine costs about $20,000. A V8 4×4 costs about $135,000. So each V8 could pretty much buy us seven dialysis machines. For the price of two V8s, we could turn pretty much any hospital into the largest dialysis centre in the country.
Now, guess how many V8s our government buys on average each year: at least 75. I know this because I checked with one of their suppliers, and that was how many the government ordered from them in one year. Now I found 2 other suppliers who refused to share sales figures with me, so I will leave you to try and work out how many they order from all suppliers in a year.
Now, you’re probably wondering, “Ah, what do they do with so many V8s?” Well, think about this: MPs, Ministers (including the debatably useful Regional Ministers), Deputy Ministers, Commission Chairpersons (From EC to CHRAJ), Chief Directors, CEOs, MDs, Directors (in some cases, Deputy Directors) of state-owned institutions, presidential staffers, Mayors/DCEs/MCEs…and many more I just can’t think of right now.
Government officials from all these categories are assigned V8s paid for by the state. Now, if any of these officials are assigned to oversee any project, they will end up with yet another V8 or other official vehicle, because new vehicles are always in the project budget. So before you know it, one person has three or four government funded vehicles parked at their house.
Now here’s why the government has to keep ordering new V8s every year: you see, when these officials are leaving office, they are allowed to take their car with them – sometimes for a token sum – which means the next office holder will need a new one to be bought for them. This is how a nation which can’t provide one cedi medication to save an expectant mother’s life chooses to spend its money?
Look, we are a poor nation with very limited resources. We go round the world begging for money. We go on our hands and knees to countries that have fewer natural resources than us, countries that used to be poorer than us. We go and line up with our fellow Africans, dress up in their traditional garb and take pictures, just so we can get a crumb or two by way of a handout. And then when we bring that money home, and we have a choice between equipping a polyclinic for thousands of Ghanaians and buying a V8 for one Ghanaian, we choose to buyV8s?
I remember when I interviewed the minority Leader, Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu on the refurbishment of parliament and the Chinese chairs, I asked why they couldn’t have just bought extra chairs for the new MPs instead of replacing all the chairs. He asked me if I wanted them to sit on plastic chairs.
In the UK – the country that gives us the most aid, the country that used to own Ghana (and, some say, still do) – their MPs sit on benches – although I’m pretty sure they could afford Chinese chairs if they so desired. As our mothers, our fathers, our children die every day from conditions that could have been treated with a GHC400 piece of equipment, our MPs are fighting for their right not to be seated on plastic chairs? And let me ask, should we be paying our MPs ex gratia, when we can’t afford to feed and clothe our medical students in Russia and Cuba? Heck, we can’t even pay for the air tickets to return to Ghana on time to write their medical exams! But no government official has ever been heard complaining about a delay in the delivery of their V8.
I guess our upside-down Republic is now powered by a V8 engine.
I know the expectation of many is that I ought to be able to do this job without emotion. Just turn up, state the facts and go home. That would certainly be the easier way to do it. It would cause me fewer sleepless nights – in fact, I could do that in my sleep. I could phone in the facts and figures from my bed, sign off with a snore, and leave you all with the headache…but those who have excelled in this seat have done so because they care. It’s as simple as that. I care. I care about each and every one of you that listens to this show – those I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and those of you I look forward to meeting in the future.
I care about all of you, and I don’t want a single one of you to die. Not from Diabetes, not from Meningitis, not from childbirth, not from any of the totally treatable, perfectly preventable conditions that are killing thousands of us every year.
I don’t want to lose a single one of you, and that is why I cannot sit by and do nothing while our elected and appointed representatives choose themselves over us, and use OUR money to satisfy THEIR needs.
This, for me, is the limit. For all of you who feel I must be dispassionate in doing my job, I hear you loud and clear. Some issues must be discussed without sentiment, but I’m afraid this is life and death we are talking about here, so the truth cannot be told without emotion.
Mr. President, your people are dying needlessly. If you really want to help Ghanaians, don’t build them GHC6billion worth of new monuments. Just stop them from dying in the old ones. Enough of this, please. It stops now.
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