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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Columnist: John K. Akpalu

Kennedy Agyapong is one hundred percent right about the bad attitude, incompetence of some Ghanaian doctors

Yesterday, I watched on Facebook an excerpt of an interview Honorable Kennedy Agyapong granted to Net2TVGH in which he decried the incompetence and the carefree attitude of some Ghanaian doctors and their inability to make basic diagnoses.

From the unprofessional and lackadaisical manner some doctors in Ghana behave towards their patients, you would not be mistaken in thinking that they do not care. From missed diagnoses, even after multiple visits and tests, to not acting with urgency even in critical cases, the level of medical care in some hospitals in Ghana, can at best be described as appalling.

I am talking about major hospitals in our major cities : Accra, Tema, Kumasi, Takoradi etc. not some rural backwater hospitals.

What upset me to finally write this article, adding to the multiple stories I have heard of unnecessary deaths from abysmal medical care in Ghana, was the death of the baby of a family member during delivery and the near-death of the mother – both totally unnecessary.

The mother’s sugar was high during pregnancy and an ultrasound scan showed that the baby was bigger than normal due to gestational diabetes. As the pregnancy advanced, the baby grew in size and it was obvious that the baby could not be delivered naturally but needed to be delivered by C-Section.

When it came to delivery, instead of the C-Section, the Doctors on duty encouraged the woman to deliver naturally. As a result, the baby died in the womb and the woman had to be cut up for the baby - with multiple injuries - to be extracted.

The woman bled profusely but fortunately survived. The worst part of this medical malpractice was the arrogance that the hospital staff displayed when her husband threatened to take this matter up with the authorities.

They threatened that if he went ahead, they would make sure that the hospital never attends to any of his family members in the future.

Another relative’s wife went to a hospital to give birth and ended up dying. This was also due to the Doctors’ negligence.

From what I learnt, in giving epidural anesthesia during a C-Section, depending on the medication being administered, the woman’s head is supposed to be elevated higher or lower than the feet so that the drug would numb the lower part of the body to block pain receptors around the abdomen and womb.

The doctors positioned the woman on the theater bed the wrong way and, as a result, the epidural anesthetic medication went to her upper body and paralyzed her breathing muscles leading to her death. Fortunately, the baby survived but is now motherless.

Stories about failure to diagnose or wrong diagnoses are just too numerous to count. Just recently, a relative visited the hospital many times with a simple complaint. He gets into a coughing fit and coughs so hard and so long that he blacks out momentarily.

During one such episode, he blacked out behind the wheel and got into an accident. It took some doctors I know here in the USA only a few questions to suggest possible adult whooping cough.

Yet this relative went to the hospital many times with no diagnosis from the many Ghanaian doctors, until we asked him to coyly ask one of the doctors if it might be whooping cough. Coyly, because some of our doctors are too arrogant to admit that they don’t know everything, and even worse, won’t learn.

A simple search on Google with his symptoms, also suggested whooping cough as a possible diagnosis. Once he was given medication for whooping cough, his symptoms disappeared.

My own mother went to the hospital many times with symptoms suggesting diabetes but was given different diagnoses until she herself, someone who has never been to school, suggested “sugar disease” to the doctor, and was finally diagnosed with diabetes.

A sister also had a problem with her gallbladder. Anytime she ate anything oily, she would feel severe pain in her side and had to be rushed to the hospital. The doctors, after examining her would only say: “We haven’t found anything.” This happened so many times that we started wondering if it was psychological.

Again, a few questions asked by some Doctors here in the USA suggested that the gallbladder might be the culprit and they suggested an ultrasound of the gallbladder and lo and behold, she had a stone in her gallbladder and once the gallbladder was removed, her problem also went away.

Another friend from my school days at Legon came to the USA for his daughter’s graduation and collapsed on arrival. He was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He had never smoked a day in his life.

When I visited him at Worcester, Massachusetts he complained that when the symptoms began, he went to many public and private hospitals in Ghana but never got a correct diagnosis. He later died from the disease when he returned to Ghana.

I can go on and on with example after example of such cases. I do not mean to cast aspersions on all, or even a majority of Ghanaian doctors; but I am frustrated, as most Ghanaians are, with those doctors who do not value human life enough and forget that their primary responsibility as doctors is to first do no harm , and to save lives.

I hope that the Medical and Dental Council in Ghana sits up and does their job and sanction these bad doctors, so as to uplift the level of healthcare in Ghana. These doctors also need to be sued for medical malpractice to serve as a deterrent to their colleagues.