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Opinions of Friday, 2 March 2012

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Lessons from Kufour’s Successful Surgery in Ghana!

It was with great joy that I read the news about Kufour’s successful spinal surgery at Korle-Bu. I am beginning to believe that if I live long enough, I might see more miracles. I want to join all his well wishers in saying speedy recovery Wofa. The ex-president, agreeing to get care in Ghana, sets a very good example that all leaders, Ghana in particular but Africa in general, should heed. For me, this is a very big deal given Kufour’s penchant for loving everything overseas even as he pontificates about culture, tradition and everything Ghanaian. I have no doubt that Ghana has the human capital to accomplish any feat. The question before us is getting the right leadership that understands our priorities and is willing to make incremental investment in our people.

Since we know that Kufour’s surgery was a success, thank God, let’s begin to engage in a lessons learned exercise. First, how much did the surgery cost and can any ordinary person get the same surgery? Did Kufour pay for the surgery or was it funded by government? Does his end of service benefit cover such care? If it was funded by government, will the insurance system that Kufour instituted, while in power, cover such surgery for the average Kofi or Ama? If his surgery was not covered by government, can the average citizen pay for such service out of pocket? These are legitimate questions because our African and Ghanaian principles demands that we take care of each other. Kufour was and continues to be incurably, a protagonist of culture and tradition. As such, it is not unfair to judge his actions through the prism of Ghanaian traditions and culture. Ebusua right? It must take a village or community! No?

I will never forget that early morning call about the death of my house caretaker’s wife. To make a long story short, his wife died because he did not have the money to pay for her healthcare. He did not have money to visit the private clinic that the practicing Ghanaian doctor at Korle-Bu directed him to. Just so that you know, the doctor in question moonlights or works overtime/part time in that private clinic and that is how they source their clients and make money while still working for the government. You will not get care if you continue to stay in the public system.

I am sure most of you know the story behind the formation of the cardiothoracic unit at Korle-Bu. It was basically engineered by Professor Frimpong Boateng with help from Comrade Rawlings. This is a facility that was long overdue in its formation. However, government after government did not have the foresight to invest in such a facility. The private sector of course could not get it going, perhaps, because of the relative enormity of the startup capital. Just imagine all the monies that we’ve spent on medical cost for leaders outside Ghana! Not too long ago for example, Ala Adejetey, may God rest his soul, was given over $15,000 by the NPP just for a check-up in Ireland. Rawlings was in a fight with Kufour because the NPP will not provide funds for his wife to get treatment overseas. How about building Ghana’s Healthcare system to enable us take care of business in Ghana? It can’t be our doctors and nurses because they shine real well when they skip Ghana and practice overseas. It is time that we train the spotlight on Ghana.

Today, through pioneers like Professor Boateng, Kufour is getting the treatment that he deserves. I think it can be said that this service is not available to the ordinary Ghanaian in every region of the country. The lesson here is that if our leaders finger the right priorities, we can build a Ghana that works for all its citizens and bring home those who have left because they couldn’t take the abuse and neglect any longer. Just imagine what other medical facilities we could have built with the money that was invested wastefully in endeavors like Ghana@50 and all the travels that Kufour engaged in. Often, we don’t find enough time to say that our calls for an able, accountable and responsible government, is an effort to maximize our scant resources based on compelling priorities. We can’t do it all at once but we can address our priorities systematically and more than adequately, if we plan properly. If we don’t plan, then we surely plan to fail.

Another successful lesson from Kufour surgery is the confidence that our leaders show in our doctors. This begins to tell the whole world that we are competent and are open for business. Confidence in economic terms means that the money is spent in Ghana and this goes to stimulate the local economy. I can tell you with keen knowledge, for example, that, a surgery the kind that Kufour had, will cost quite a bit for the physicians alone at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Now, the money stays in Ghana and helps the local economy. If the taxpayer is covering this, the cost has been held to a minimum because there is no flying and boarding cost to tack on to the others expenses. If Kufour is personally footing the bill, this saves him a ton of money even as he gets the care that he needs. This is surely a win/win for all. The other lesson here is that if we invest enough in our local system, we can bring it to an appreciable level.

Lastly, let me echo my advocacy that if our leaders have to get care in Ghana, they will more than likely think carefully about investing in the medical system locally. So long as the tax payer continues to pay for their medical cost outside, they will never fix home good enough for you and me. This is why we must not relent in exposing the inadequacies and frailties of our healthcare system as it exist. In addition, we must impose stiff pressure on our leaders to invest heavily in the medical system for those who cannot travel overseas for care. Is this too much to ask for?

The challenge before us is this: how do we get our government to embrace the idea of investing heavily in our medical system? How do we hold these leaders accountable and responsible for making sure that no citizen, regardless of social or material status, is denied care? This idea of creating a medical system that works for the rich and powerful while the poor die needlessly must be fought tooth and nail with every sinew. After all, people do not choose when, where, and how to get sick. Any decent and civilized society must take care of its sick. Medical care, in addition to education, from where I sit, must be made a fundamental right for all. My slant is that if you have education and are fit, you must be productive. To the latter, I suffer no ifs, ands or butts. Go tell it on the mountains! Give them hell till they get it right. One more reason to march and disrupt!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Also known as the double edge sword)

I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell—Harry Truman