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Opinions of Friday, 18 March 2016

Columnist: Ofori-Kuragu, Kwame

It’s time to re-build Ghana’s broken healthcare infrastructure

By Dr. Kwame Ofori-Kuragu

In recent times, there has been a spotlight shone on the Ghanaian health sector highlighting the numerous and significant deficiencies in the sector. There are some who as a result of their experiences describe our best hospitals as “graveyards” due to the high number of deaths recorded at these facilities. Generally the health infrastructure in Ghana is poor and aged and in many cases very dirty. The attitudes of some healthcare workers such as nurses can be very poor and uncaring. The rights of patients and their families are non-existent. You cannot ask to see doctor for your patient. Nurses will treat this and other similar requests with disdain. Relatives have to do nearly everything in the hospitals apart from medication. The mornings in the large hospitals are like battle fields with friends and relations struggling to clean, change and feed their patients before the visiting hours end. Patients and their relatives provide their own bed sheets, pillows and all basic essentials. Nearly all services are paid for in advance. To cap all these, there is a high mortality rate. Nurses show apathy and no concern for the dying. There is little respect for dead who are treated anyhow both on the words where they pass away and in the mortuaries. So the recent call vision expressed by the President to make Ghana a hub for healthcare delivery in the sub-region remains but a distant dream. This is because Ghana’s healthcare system is itself in need of emergency care and needing immediate attention.

The problems within the Ghanaian health sector are generally due to the poor attitudes of healthcare workers or a lack of resources. Some healthcare staff are simply indifferent to the plight and the needs of patients whilst Government budgetary allocation is not able to meet the infrastructure needs and provide all the consumables required for the sector. Neither of these two big issues can be addressed easily but they can be done. Staff attitudes can be addressed through training and exposure to best practice healthcare standards. It will take bold efforts but it can be done with vision, purpose and determination. The problem with financing and resourcing can be addressed through a systematic partnership between the public and private sectors. Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) can be used to both improve the standards of infrastructure and provide any associated logistics and supplies required to keep the healthcare system running efficiently.
The way forward – Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)
The first priority in my view is to develop modern infrastructure for Ghana’s Healthcare System. This requires innovative Public Private Partnerships which can incorporate the delivery of healthcare services too. There must be a recognition that the government alone cannot be relied upon to provide all that is needed to improve Ghana’s healthcare system. However the government employs some of the best medical doctors and other healthcare professionals in the sub-region. These together with other resources like the existing healthcare infrastructure stock and even land can be used as the public component in PPPs.

All Hands on deck

To succeed, we need all hands on deck. Improving the healthcare situation is important for all Ghanaians – rich and poor. At one point or another, we will all need healthcare. The question you need to ask is where will you end up? Will it be Korle Bu, 37 Military Hospital or Komfo Anokye in your moment of need? The better the quality of healthcare available, the better it will be for all of us. This is why I challenge everyone to get involved. Churches and religious bodies should take this up as part of their duty of care to society and help build modern hospitals and clinics in the localities where they operate. Churches should take up this challenge the way they did with the education sector in developing tertiary institutions. Now we have got enough Universities and University Colleges and it is time to shift focus to the health sector. In the same vein, political parties should take up the challenge just as Education became a major issue in the last general election. Let’s hear the parties tell us what they will do different for our health sector if they are voted in, and for me, the party which has the best plans to develop our health sector should win. Also, successful business people and investors investing in shopping malls, stalls and office complex development should consider investing in healthcare. Similarly the large corporate bodies in Ghana should consider investing in and supporting healthcare infrastructure development. It is possible that in some cases, the returns may not match other commercial investments. But this is for us all knowing that together, we will all reap the benefits. Who knows, you will end up in a ward you built and how good it will be if you know you have provided for yourself the best.

Healthcare is so important to all of us. The effect of a lack of good and affordable healthcare can be seen in the large numbers of people who die needlessly every day, evidenced in the number of funerals organised every weekend. This includes many young people whose potential to contribute to Ghana’s development is forever lost. This also includes the rich and powerful. Not a day passes without the funeral announcement of someone great in society. Funerals are also very expensive in terms of money and time. The sheer numbers of people dying; young and old, rich and poor, should tell us that our healthcare system is not working well. This makes the case for a better healthcare system so essential. We cannot afford to put all our hopes in the likes of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, originally built in 1923, the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital with its tired infrastructure from 1954 and the 37 Military Hospital established in 1941. Whilst there have been some improvements at these hospitals, the original structures and facilities are still in use. These fantastic hospitals will continue to contribute significantly to the delivery of healthcare in Ghana but are not enough. We need new and modern facilities like in many countries around the world. Ghanaian lives are no less important than lives in the UK, USA or even South Africa. Every life matters and deserves good healthcare. Every Ghanaian deserves good access to a good healthcare facility within reasonable proximity. It is the time to start rebuilding and fixing Ghana’s broken healthcare infrastructure. It is time to arise and build!! We are all involved in this task. This is our time!!

The writer is the Honorary General Secretary of the Ghana Institute of Construction (GIOC) and a lecturer at the Department of Building Technology, KNUST. He can be reached at: or