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Opinions of Saturday, 1 March 2014

Columnist: Festival Godwin Boateng

Doctors and Nurses – The merciful and untouchable heroes of Ghana?

When the enraged Zongo youth stormed Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital to demand the dead body of Suwaiba’s baby on February 13, I read at myjoyonline that, two doctors and a number of nurses were said to have been assaulted. Daily Guide gathered that, Dr. Frank Ankobea, the Ashanti Regional Ghana Medical Association’s president, also suffered the attack. Dr. Ankobea was said to have been busily attending to patients at the ward when the Zongo youth suddenly pounced on him around 9:00 am. He was reportedly hit from all directions; which was a rather unfortunate incident!

The nurses and doctors of KATH in a press statement, on 15th February decided to withdraw their services from KATH until some measures are put in place. What “measures” were they calling for? They wanted to see visible and palpable police presence. Is that fair enough? ( See No security, no work – KATH doctors declare strike –

What did the State and KATH do in response to the Doctors and Nurses demand? An emergency meeting was held to convince the doctors and nurses to rescind their decision and return to work but was deadlocked with no sign of the doctors returning. The Doctors and Nurses insisted that they are no longer safe in discharging their duties. (See KATH's emergency meeting deadlocked; doctors remain on strike – myjoyonline)

As Nhyira FM’s Ohemeng Tawiah captured in his report, security had been beefed-up at the hospital and its environs and that plain clothed security personnel were seen patrolling the hospital premises but the doctors say they are not convinced. So the strike continued. Not even the several appeals by stakeholders and a crucial meeting between the Deputy Health Minister, Dr. Alfred Sugri Tia and the doctors on Tuesday, February18, and all the security arrangements put in place would convince the doctors to return to work.

On Thursday, February 19, Mr. Mohammed Abdul Rahman, the spokesperson of the Zongo Youth, (whose attack led to the strike and whose threats not [to] give up and further threat that, “this [the attack at KATH] is just the beginning, leading to the Doctors and Nurses decision not to return to work, despite all the security arrangements put in place) in a meeting between the Ashanti Regional Security Council and leaders of the Zongo Community in Kumasi rendered an unqualified apology to the Doctors and Nurses of KATH.

Despite the visible remorse on the part of the Zongo Youth, expressed in their own words that: “We are human [sic] and to err is human; we apologize for whatever happened. We apologize entirely and the way forward is for us to leave everything to REGSEC and police to investigate”, the leadership of the doctors and nurses could not give a definite response as to when they would resume work. The Doctors therefore scheduled a meeting on Thursday, 20th February to be captured by Nhyira FM’s Ohemeng Tawiah, on their deliberation on their come-back to official duties. (See Zongo youth apologize for attack on Komfo Anokye staff – adom online). At their own appointed time, after their Thursday meeting, the merciful doctors and nurses called off their strike and returned to work.

So not even all the security measures put in place by the Ashanti Regional Security Council and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital could convince the doctors and nurses to return to work. The unqualified apology to the Doctors and Nurses and the firm assurance to leave the matter to the Police by the fearful Zongo Youth too were also not enough and readily convincing to the Doctors and Nurses to call off the strike. They called it off, at their own appointed time! After their meeting!

In the midst of the drama surrounding the extraordinary disappearance of five babies declared dead at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in the Suwaiba et al versus KATH Saga, which began on Wednesday, February 5, 2014, the Ministry of Health issued a directive that: “With immediate effect the Board, Management and CEO of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital should account for the corpse of the five (5) stillborn babies delivered on the said date within 14 working days for burial by the families”. In the directive, the doctor and the head of midwifery who were on duty were asked to take their accumulated leave. They have also been referred to the appropriate Councils for further investigations.

As lawfully allowed in any democratic dispensation, an objection has been taken by the Ghana Medical Association to the Minister’s directive. The President of the Association, Dr. Kwabena Adusei Poku have protested that, the sector Minister Madam Sherry Ayittey, disregarded structures at the hospital in taking that “unfortunate” decision. He told Joy FM’s Top Story on Friday that the GMA does “not condone wrongdoing”, but rightly argued that: We live in a democratic dispensation with rules and regulation, and expected the Minister to have discussed the ministry’s findings with management of the facility and further chastised that, the Health Minister’s action was as if we are in a military regime. These are all fine and legitimate argumentations!

But unfortunately, following the minister’s directive, doctors have vowed to work according to international standards which require that each doctor attends to only three patients a day. (See GMA condemns Health Ministry’s military orders – myjoyonline). Wahala don come!! But the GMA President, Dr. Adusei Poku, argues that, the action is not to punish patients but to avoid mistakes as a result of the pressure imposed on them by the huge numbers that visited the facility daily, some doctors in Komfo Anokye said in a report by Ohemeng Tawiah of Nhyira FM in Kumasi (See Controversy over missing babies; KATH doctors vow to see 3 patients a day – myjoyonline).

If the doctors carry on with this threat again, as they did in the case of the Zongo Youth, the implication is what Isaac Essel adequately captures in his report: “The hospital (KATH) has a total of 450 doctors, but only 200 doctors are on duty at a given day. Also, about 1900 patients, both in patients and OPD, seek healthcare at KATH daily. With the latest development - attending to only three patients a day per a doctor - would mean that about 70% of patients who troop to the facility daily in search of healthcare would not get it (See again GMA condemns Health Ministry’s military orders – myjoyonline). I have fairly captured the chronology of the happenings after the extraordinary disappearance of Suwaiba’s dead baby at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital from Wednesday, February 5, 2014, at 3:00am heretofore (1st March, 2014) to inform the position I am about to painfully support below.

The Zongo Youth’s attack on the doctors and nurses was wrong and unacceptable. Whilst I take a serious view of the fact that, the attack was motivated by the irresponsible inertia on the part of the Police to find justice for them, by appearing as if, the Midwives of KATH were above Ghana Laws and can decide when to cooperate or not to corporate with Police investigation, I condemn the attack unreservedly. (This position of mine is eloquently made in my earlier write-up which I shared on my Facebook wall on 27th February, 2014: “The ordeal of suwaiba et al; another case of elitist and institutional injustice in Ghana – KATH must produce the babies”). And I think by their apology to the Doctors and Nurses of KATH and the Hospital, the Youth clearly agree that they got it wrong.

For fear of being attacked again by the Zongo Youth and to rightly protect their lives as noted earlier, on the 15th of February, KATH Doctors and Nurses decided not to go to work. As rightly argued then by Dr. Serebour, GMA General Secretary, in his submission to back the strike declared by his colleagues at Komfo Anokye, “If the security at the hospitals have become unsafe, then there is no need working there” (See “No security, no work - KATH doctors declare strike” – Ghanaweb)

But my thinking was that, if security was really their concern, then the beefing up of security at the hospital and its environs and the patrol by security personnel including the plain clothed officers should have made them return to work. The Doctors and Nurses continued with their service withdrawal complaining that, they could see the Police at ONLY the A-Block of the Hospital and that, they could be attacked from the other blocks. “How can you have police personnel only at A-Block because they attacked A-Block? If they know the police are at A-Block, will they come back to A-Block? So what happens to the other blocks that we work in?” Dr. Lawrence Osei Tutu of Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, questioned on Ultimate Radio (see “No security, no work - KATH doctors declare strike” -

I but with respect, find this excuse cited by the doctors to continue with the strike as not only nit-picking but also impotent. Which angry youths in their right minds will attempt to attack doctors and nurses at a hospital which the doctors themselves say they “have police personnel” present and patrolling? They portrayed the premises of KATH as though it’s as wide as the whole Kumasi where the Police have been unwisely situated at Bantama (Block A) leaving the other blocks at distant areas (say Tech – Junction) unprotected was in my view disingenuous. In any event, there were also plain clothed security officials patrolling the hospital’s premises, so on what basis can one conclude convincingly that, there was no security at the other blocks so he would not return to work?

If all workers and service providers in Ghana were to coerce the state into such a situation as done by the doctors and nurses before they render their services to the very people with whose taxes they were trained and are paid, there would not have been any Policeman/woman or military personnel on duty on that very day and at that material time, the Doctors and the nurses were calling for security. The Police, Military, Fire Service, Lecturers, and all workers in Ghana will have been on strike by then. May be, only the Politicians will have been on duty!

But what alarms me most, is the reported threat to “vow to see 3 patients a day in accordance with international standards”. You see, this can rightly be justified with the smoke that, it is not meant to “punish patients” but to avoid mistakes as a result of the pressure associated with the huge number of cases attended to daily by Doctors and to a large extent Nurses. But what is important is that, we are all clear in our minds and hearts that, the real issue is the Doctors unhappiness with the directive by the Ministry of Health to KATH to account for the five (5) still born babies.

If truly, the problem was the Ministry of Health’s sidestepping of the Management structures of KATH in the issuance of the directive as legitimately complained of by Dr. Kwabena Adusei Poku, then the President of Ghana Medical Association, should elaborate clearly how is this “unilateral imposition of directive” addressable by a refusal to attend to more patients? I am extremely baffled.

I believe and accept that, Ghana Medical Association should protect its members from being made to proceed on leave unlawfully and this issue can be easily resolved through many means including a discussion with the Ministry of Health. The GMA is too big a fearsome group and central to our health sector not to be given a hearing by the Ministry if that approach is resorted to.

The GMA President is perfectly right – Doctors in Ghana make huge sacrifices – they pay bills of patients and donate their own blood to save lives, and in spite of the demanding nature of their work, they even do not take their full leave otherwise there would be “total chaos”. We know about all these, and we appreciate them for that.

But given the circumstances of the case at hand, if our doctors carry through their vow to see 3 patients a day in accordance with international standards, as rightly observed by the National Coordinator of Universal Access to Healthcare Campaign Coalition, Sidua Hor, the Doctors will be clearly seen as “trying to avoid accountability”. They will be perceived as trying to feign the victim role in order to protect their colleagues who clearly might have not acted professionally.

My plea is that, the doctors should kindly not fulfil the vow to see 3 patients a day and further corporate with the investigation into the “(dead) babies” case and where necessary challenge the process when obvious victimization becomes seeming without using the health of people as their sword, otherwise Doctors stand to be voted as “GHANA’S MERCIFUL AND UNTOUCHABLE HEROES”.

Festival Godwin Boateng

An Ordinary Ghanaian who does not know Suwaiba nor any of the affected mothers.