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Opinions of Saturday, 29 December 2012

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi

Legon’s Teaching Hospital: 50 years on!

It would be interesting to find out what differences, if any, exist between the architectural designs and models created by the Americans for the Legon Teaching Hospital in 1960-1961 and the Sheba Medical Centre model created by the Israelis in 2012.

History indeed appears to have come full circle. The more things change, the more they appear to remain the same.

The records show that as far back as 1853, various attempts had been made to commence the local training of medical doctors and other health professionals in the Gold Coast, most suffering from serious lack of political will. On one occasion, the British War Office stopped these efforts because “they were convinced that black doctors will not command the confidence of white troops.” Even in the 1920s after the influenza epidemic had badly exposed acute shortages in personnel, it was generally felt that West Africa did not possess enough facilities for general education up to the required standard. In the words of medical historian Prof Stephen Addae, “There was a strong undercurrent of prejudice in the medical establishment as to the Ghanaian Africans’ ability to pursue a medical course.” Perhaps, Governor Guggisberg had the greatest will in March 1924 of establishing a medical school at the Gold Coast Hospital given his firm belief that no satisfactory progress could be made in health until enough qualified African staff were trained. His laudable initiatives also plummeted when Governor Griffiths succeeded him with other priorities. Of course from 1929 until the mid1950s, generous scholarships would be regularly offered to Africans for medical education in England.

Korle Bu Hospital

It would appear however that in all the above considerations, Korle Bu Hospital had always been the envisaged Teaching hospital to support the planned local medical training. Indeed, when the government and authorities of the University College of the Gold Coast invited a delegation in 1951 from the University of London to draw a scheme for medical education following Nkrumah’s decision to establish the awaited medical school, the existence of Korle Bu hospital was one of the key positive assumptions underpinning their recommendation. In the main, this delegation worked out details for the establishment of a future medical school given the existence of a paltry 25 A level Science graduates from the whole country which prevented them from recommending its immediate establishment. The next time we hear of the hospital to host the proposed medical school would be in 1956 when Governor Arden-Clarke reported to the Secretary of State that “the Ghana government had agreed in principle to the establishment of a medical school at the UCGC and was making provision for preclinical training at Legon, and for capital expenditure of 15 million pounds on Korle Bu Hospital for clinical training.”

Legon Teaching Hospital

The British government however took the political decision in 1955 that the medical school should be entirely financed by the Nkrumah government. This was after another delegation from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons had given approval for the establishment of the medical school. This political decision was believed to be hinged on Nkrumah’s alleged flirtations with the East coupled with his strident anti-colonial rhetoric. Other sources hold it that the British were themselves facing uncertain financial fortunes. It was primarily because of these funding gaps that Nkrumah first turned to the Americans who under Eisenhower and Kennedy did their own independent assessments ending with the recommendation to set up a medical school complex known as a medical centre with all units placed in one site including a brand new Teaching Hospital.

It was at this point that a site was chosen at Legon, part of which currently hosts the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research. The tract of land was then acquired by the Nkrumah government followed by the signing of a memorandum of understanding in 1960/1961 committing the governments of Ghana and America to the project. For some two-three years, with the afore mentioned architectural drawings being concluded and a contract being awarded to a French firm, things appeared to be on course till 1963 when Nkrumah suddenly abrogated the agreement for reasons which were described as political. Firstly, Nkrumah is believed to have been influenced by a South African Physiologist, Dr. Gilman, who opined that Ghana had enough doctors to run its own school, that the course structure as designed by the Americans was too long and that Korle Bu Hospital could be used and a new hospital was not necessary. Secondly, it was also rumored that agents of the Central Intelligence Agency had infiltrated the ranks of the 25 American lecturers initially recruited to establish the school.
Nkrumah would subsequently commission Dr. Easmon to set up a medical school whose design, construction and faculty were wholly Ghanaian. Plans for expanding Korle Bu Hospital from a 250 to a 1000 bed hospital were simultaneously commenced with the medical course starting shortly thereafter in 1964 to great success. 1963 thus became the last time we appear to have heard anything about the Teaching Hospital to be located at Legon until November 2012.

Over fifty years after its first conceptualization, the dream to relocate Ghana’s premier medical school on the University of Ghana campus, complete with its own Teaching Hospital appears to be back on track, if the recent ground breaking ceremony held at the University of Ghana is anything to go by.
At the function held at the auditorium of the School of Public Health, University authorities announced a US $217 million loan from the Israeli Government, secured through the Government of Ghana to build a 600-bed teaching hospital. Present at the ceremony were the Honorable Deputy Minister of Health, Hon. Rojo Mettle-Nunoo, University Authorities, Israeli ambassador to Ghana, the Israeli architect in charge of the project and other dignitaries.

According to a report filed by the Ghana News Agency, “The project will be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for trauma and emergency service with a heliport and internal medicine including Surgery, Obstetrics and gynecology, paediatrics, cardiology, heart surgery and medicinal imaging.” The Vice Chancellor, Prof Ernest Aryeetey announced that the hospital would be modeled along the Sheba Medical Centre in Israel and would be located on a 400 acre parcel of land had been waiting for years to be occupied. Prof Aryeetey announced that the facility, would be a skill training unit for undergraduates and residency training and would provide specialized medical services to serve the people of Ghana.

The Hon. Deputy Minister of Health, Rojo Mettle-Nunoo Rojo Mettle Nunoo, said the project would ease the current pressure on the Korle Bu Teaching hospital, had the potential of being expanded into a 1,300 bed facility and would serve not just Ghana but the entire sub region. He announced that “Plans are underway to replicate this at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and indeed in the other Medical Public Universities that train health professionals in the country.”

In conclusion, it would appear from the glowing testimony of eminent professionals like Prof Lante Lawson – Provost of the College of Health Sciences and Prof. Otu Nartey –CEO of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and others, at the ground breaking function that one person who could best be described as the unsung hero driving this recent initiative is the Deputy Minister of Health, Hon. Robert Joseph Mettle-Nunoo who is known to have been unstoppable in his zeal to secure funding for the project. Prof Nartey actually testified that if most public officials had the attitude of “Rojo”, Ghana’s development would be truly phenomenal. It would be fitting, given the rich nature of the personal testimony and as the actual project progresses, to focus some future effort on noticing, naming and celebrating Rojo Mettle-Nunoo’s exemplary conduct.
I remain grateful to Prof Stephen Kojo Addae, Physiologist and medical historian for his expert chronicling of matters of medical history.

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey
21st December, 2012