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Opinions of Monday, 21 June 2010

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

A Drink for Komfo Anokye

Things did not go as planned this weekend. I had anticipated an afternoon watching the Black Stars wallop a weakened Australian side and then proceed to the Imperial London Hotel in a celebratory mood for the grand dinner of former workers of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. As fate and Asamoah Gyan’s right foot would have it, my mood was not nearly as good as I had expected but that is an issue I intend to revisit later.

A group of dynamic and progressive nurses who had previously worked in the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital had gotten together to form an association to raise funds for the hospital. And they had done a good job, even adopting ward B3 for special attention. This dinner was a call to everybody who had been associated with the hospital in one way or the other to come and contribute to a good cause.

It was a well-organised function in the kind of slightly over-the-top manner that only nurses can manage. A contribution of 500 pounds per association member meant that they were all able to afford the same kente design for a special cloth for the occasion. A senior doctor had been sponsored to attend from Ghana and the attendance was nothing if not impressive. And the ladies looked beautiful, very beautiful indeed. Ghanaian music boomed a tad too loudly on the loudspeakers but all was set for a wonderful evening. The dinner started exactly at seven o’clock, and the reason was, that the hotel had been booked for a specific time and we were going to have to stop at exactly twelve midnight. The MC was good. He related a good history of the special relationship between Komfo Anokye and King Osei Tutu. Komfo Anokye was actually an Akuapim and had only met and befriended Osei Tutu in Denkyira. He talked impressively about how Komfo Anokye planted the sword that has come to represent the soul of the Asantes and the way he commanded the golden stool from the sky into the lap of Osei Tutu. Finally, he mentioned how Komfo Anokye had left to look for a cure for death. After 3 days, he had returned to see the town in mourning, having presumed his death. Saddened by this, he had turned round, walked away and was never seen again. It reminded me of what Mark Twain had once said, “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story..."

For a thirty pound ticket to attend a Ghanaian function, the last thing I was expecting was a couple of thin slices of lamb, two pieces of roast potato, some leaves and a dessert which happened to be just glorified “boflot”. But “who was I to say?” It was all for a good cause. As we toiled through this miserable concoction that the British adore, a middle aged woman with an air of authority made a grand entrance into the hall, attendants in tow, and walked majestically to the high table to be shown her seat. We were informed she was the Deputy High Commissioner of Ghana to the UK. She had been two hours late!! And she was a deputy. How late would the boss have been? I wondered.

We all stood up for the Ghana National Anthem. I have never heard the Ghana National Anthem sang with so much enthusiasm and passion. It was quite obvious that the wine was slowly achieving its noble aim of easing our natural inhibitions. The Deputy started to speak and gracefully apologized for coming late, but she had an excuse! She had been to so many Ghanaian functions where she had been early, only to find she was about the first to arrive. So on this occasion, she had decided to do some shopping first. Brilliant, Madam Deputy! Excellent excuse! Thanks for helping to propagate the zero-tolerance-to-African-punctuality policy of Uncle Atta.

Before the serious business of the day began, it was thought necessary to stimulate our senses with a horror film on the squalor and degradation evident on Ward B3 of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. There was one scene where faeces were seeping under a door that led into a mal-functioning toilet. When the lights came back on, there were tears on the faces of a couple of the ladies at my table. But what were the tears for? Do a few years in Europe make one so oblivious of the reality of life at home? Were they tears of guilt for having left when they could have helped? Or was it guilt for having contributed, in small and varied ways to the mess. The conversation began.

On my table, by sheer coincidence, were two doctors, four nurses, a laboratory technician and a revenue collector who had all previously worked in KATH. They talked animatedly, perhaps a trifle angrily, about how on earth conditions had been allowed to deteriorate that much. There was a mention of the Jubilee House and the presidential jet. There was a heated debate about the need to have celebrated Ghana at 50 at such expense for people to enrich themselves when conditions like these existed in one of the nation’s flagship hospitals. There was talk of corruption at high places and the recent news that some NDC functionaries had already built mansions in the short time they have been in power. The conversation wandered off, to how much Government revenue was lost in the first place due to corruption in the hospitals. The revenue collector told us how they were able to pick out the illiterate patients and divide one ticket for two people so they could keep the money from the second patient in their own pockets. The laboratory technician told of how they took money directly from regular patients like diabetics so their tests could be done quickly. “Those who tried to be clever and insisted on getting their receipts” he said, “we put at the back of the queue and would probably not be attended to till evening.” The nurses told of how they kept their own intravenous fluids which they sold at exorbitant prices to needy patients rather than providing them with the government infusions. The doctors talked of all the illegal money they collected from patients.

One nurse told a story, confirmed by a doctor, of how the floor tiles in the D-Block which had been laid when the hospital was first built and which, except for the odd broken one in places looked very good, were all stripped off by a local contractor. New ones were laid, except that most of it came off in a few months and the floor looked much worse than it was before the renovation. So who is to blame? It was obvious, that we are all, in our own small ways and by our actions and even inactions, responsible for the deterioration of the Komfo Anokye Hospital. In the end, the money to be collected at this function would only go in providing some bed sheets and for doing some painting to paper over the cracks. What Ward B3 needed was serious government funds to do major structural repairs which a few drinks in a London hotel and ten pounds into a bowl could not do. Perhaps, though, it was a start in helping to repair damage we had all helped to cause in the first place.