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Opinions of Monday, 17 September 2012

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

The Answer To The Exodus Of Our Medical Personnel.

From Voice of Reason:
Medical tourism industry can perhaps single- handedly be an answer to our healthcare personnel exodus and fix unemployment situations in Ghana.
I don’t know about you but, I think the Brain Drain has become a national security issue for decades and no government has done anything substantial about it. Ghana is losing its young and vibrant doctors and nurses in an alarming rate to hospitals in United States, Canada and Great Britain; for higher salaries and better working conditions. And, what has the Ghanaian government done to fix this national security issue? It only gives a lip service….there is no comprehensive master plan to deal with this issue. Why?
The problem is, the custodians of our government and national policies have fell silent over this issue for the last quarter century, perhaps afraid that if they speak out loudly their seemingly ,secured cushy positions in the society will be eliminated or disrupted. Or maybe they think any remedy they propose will be unrealistic.
Well, perhaps the Ghanaian government can put barbwires around the country to prevent Ghanaians, particularly medical professionals from leaving to seek greener pastures elsewhere….Or it can throw enough money at them until it goes broke.
While the above scenario sounds downright laughable, especially to Ghanaians who are getting ready to flee at any given opportunity, I’m trying to paint a picture here. Certainly, it’s difficult to prevent professionals (or any other Ghanaian for that matter)from emigrating to other countries, due largely in part to our challenging economic circumstances. But, something can be done to keep a good number of our medical officials in Ghana, by balancing the outflow and inflow of our professionals. The point is, so far no one is talking about how to get a dividend from our large pool of medical professionals who are stationed outside the country as India, Costa Rica and Cuba get from their medical professionals.
For decades, India has supplied about half of all medical personnel needed to serve western countries’ healthcare industry. Yet it has cleverly developed a new tourism industry and everyone is talking about it. Thanks to the high cost of medical care in the United States, Canada and Britain. Suddenly, India, Cuba and Costa Rica have become the destinations for patients in the developed world who seek anything from hernia and heart surgery, liver transplants, hip and knee replacements or dental implant procedures. According to reports from medical journals the trend is expected to increase remarkably in coming years because of the rising health care cost and an increased in elderly population in the developed world. The cost of surgery performed in these overseas hospitals can be as little as twenty percent of the same procedure in the United States.
Nat Williams (a fictitious name) who lives in the States was too young to qualify for a Medicare and his medical insurance won’t cover his entire surgery bill in any hospital in the States. He needed a hip replacement operation, which cost $17,000.00 (U.S dollars) .He decided to look beyond the borders of the United States as his last resort. The same surgery will cost him $3,900.00 hospital and doctor’s bill in Costa Rica or at Narayana- Hrudayalaya Hospital in Bangalore, India.
According to healthcare experts, every year, over 85 thousand Medical Tourists from United states choose to pilgrimage to Indian and South American renowned hospitals for high volume of low-cost medical operations. Those patients who travel abroad for medical procedures do so because of three reasons: Quality, safety and low-cost medical care.
Solution to stop the Brain Drain Syndrome:
This information brings us to my main question: Why can’t the Ghanaian government be part of this emerging medical Hospitality industry, as a means to manage the Brain Drain in our medical professionals and create employment at home? Why can’t the government build a new quality medical facility, specifically designed to attract foreign patients and our overseas-based medical professionals?
To get on the medical tourism bandwagon, we need to do three things right:
!)We need hospitals with the state of the art standard and international accreditation. That means not only our hospitals should be located from the regional capitals but they should and must meet the Joint commission International standard (JCI)—is an international arm of the organization that accredits American hospitals.
2) We need to provide quality and specialized surgeries and medical procedures at affordable costs, lower than that of the traditional medical providers in the States or Britain.
3) The government should invite all Ghanaian doctors and medical personnel living abroad to visit the new hospital to exchange their ideas and skills while working with their colleagues in Ghana.
4) The Ghanaian doctors and healthcare professionals living abroad and home should be encouraged to schedule their vacations trips around the patients’ visits and medical procedures to be performed in Ghana. That means they don’t necessarily have to live in Ghana continuously to work in the Medical Tourism industry in Ghana.
I believe most of the Ghanaian professionals living abroad are very patriotic and will take on the challenge and gradually come home to serve if such opportunity is available. The initial hindrance of clearing their equipment, and even few personal effects like; cars at the harbor could be addressed by (the Parliament) giving them a reduce tax rate and other incentives.
Yes, I’m aware of other hindrances and drawbacks like ,insurance to cover negligent care, malpractice law suit which is prevalent in the States, a follow –up care for the patients having a surgery done half-way around the world from their regular doctor, family and friends. But I’m sure these and other complex medical and legal issues will be addressed in order to make this medical tourism a viable, marketable and profitable industry in Ghana.

I can only hope that we’re not going to let medical, financial, political and legal technicalities to prevent us from looking at the possibilities and its potentials. Not only this industry will lift Ghana to its glory but it will provide the needed revenue, creating other supporting secondary industries and jobs and covertly lure our professionals back home and retain the ones who are already home. And, above all, as a means of investing in much needed modern infrastructure to supplement the Kole- Bu and KATH; in delivering advanced healthcare on a self -sustainable manner, in the face of an increasing population and limited government resources.
The Juicy part of my solution:
I have written extensively about the employment potential of medical hospitality industry and its subsidiaries like; banking, transportation, restaurants, hotels, hair salons, housing, entertainment, communication, education (teachers to teach our languages to the tourists), shopping outlets, personal security services and much more…In other words, medical tourism can positively and directly affect other areas of the main economy and the society beyond everyone’s imagination. Not only we can also use the revenue we generate from these industries to pay our medical professionals better but, to build more medical schools and train more healthcare professionals. It will be a win, win situation for the nation, all Ghanaians and our ‘tourists’, while we laugh all the way to the bank.
But, I’m sure right now some doomsday prophets reading this piece are hitching- up all the reasons why this is impossible endeavor to practice in Ghana. Oh yes, there is a truck-load of reasons; from bad roads to poor sanitation to all the society ills that you can come up with; as to why we should abandon this discussion. Ghanaians are very funny. They have a way to kill pregnant dreams in their trimester. So I’d not be surprised if I get fickle from this one. I’m mindful of the fact that every great invention was once a simple dream or an idea at some point of innovational food chain.
All we need is a nice patient-friendly hospital, which located in a nice quiet area, surrounded by natural ecology with perhaps wildlife, which can pamper our international patients’ imaginations and they have never seen before.
Maybe(just maybe) this idea won’t be able to fulfill all its intended potentials or purposes, and bring all self-imposed exiled Ghanaians home .However, this single idea can allow the sons and daughters of Ghana the luxury to age and ultimately die comfortably on their motherland. Is that too much dream to uphold? I hope I’m not the only dreamer or the lonely voice in the wilderness…Please correct me if I’m right!

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (voice of Reason)
The author is a social commentator and the founder of the Adu-Gyamfi Youth empowerment foundation for Disadvantaged Youth of Asuom.