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Opinions of Saturday, 27 June 2020

Columnist: Samuel Wiafe

The life of Physician Assistant in Ghana -The untold stories

Bringing the focus on the current life of a Physician Assistant in Ghana, I humbly crave your indulgence for just a brief reflection from the past, the PA program was introduced by the ministry of health in the early 1970s and has since seen 3 faces of name change i.e. medical superintendent, medical assistant and from 2010 till date, physician assistant as a degree. He was the one the community used to ironically call village doctor, aha I think it brings back memories?

He worked tirelessly day and night taking care of the sick in the community. He was deprived of social life and working within limited resources, improvisation was his great tool to achieve good outcomes. The rural community lacks several amenities like telecom networks, good roads, electricity etc but for the love of the work, whiles others are enjoying in the cities, with good lighting, good and accessible roads, telecommunications i.e. calls/chats/live streaming, good schools for their children etc. he will find himself in such deplorable housing as an accommodation. This is the true life of a Ghanaian PA.

Countries over the world have embraced the Physician Assistant workforce and authorities in charge of healthcare have ensured a road map of career development for all healthcare staff including the PA profession. This has led to a breakthrough in achieving universal health coverage for citizens within such countries. They have been trained and empowered in the field of surgery, internal medicine, paediatrics and obstetrics & gynaecology as speciality areas after their basic training in bachelor of science in physician assistantship.

Sad to say that is not the story we can tell in this our country Ghana, the PA is left to rot at the health centre after their training. He is woefully underpaid for the sacrifices and work he does in such remote areas being deprived of all forms of social amenities and pleasures embraced by those living in the cities. Apart from the lack of remuneration for this workforce, there is no career development plan for the Physician Assistant in Ghana since the inception of this program in the 1970s. The work of the Physician Assistant spans across conducting administrative and human resource duties, financial management duties, and clinical practice of medicine.

The Physician Assistant has filled the gap within the health sector and has over the years reduced the number of deaths which occurred due to poor roads, broken bridges across rivers etc. The Physician Assistant serves over 70% of the rural populace in the country and this has improved access to health care ensuring the attainment of universal health coverage for all. The adoption of the Primary Health Care concept and the subsequent opening up of health centres and chips compounds within the communities tremendously increased access and ensured real-time intervention in emergencies by the Physician Assistant in the over thousand health centres within the country. There are close to 3,000 Physician Assistants being regulated by the Medical and Dental Council with the greatest majority currently working in the various health centres, district, regional and some teaching hospitals.

The PA deserves to have the opportunity to advance academically in his area of work, have a revised condition of service, receive rural incentives (remuneration) etc. for the role of the head of the facility, managing staff and finances, seeing patients all throughout the 24 hour period at the health centres. He is not competing with any category of workers to be oppressed but only playing his part in the health care delivery.

But why are the authorities adamant about this workforce? Is it a lack of representation at the various policy and decision-making bodies or a deliberate effort to obstruct and deprive them of everything because the winner takes all? Why are their names deliberately omitted in all forms of formal address by authorities and leaders of this country?

The name assistant is misleading and has been given a literal meaning even though they work independently and do not assist anyone at the health centre.

The PA has been very instrumental for successes chocked by this country health sector since the 1970s till now, a team player in combating diseases and outbreaks e.g. meningitis, measles, COVID-19 pandemic etc., working with all passion and dedication.

The PA fraternity is seeking the kindest attention of the President of this country, the Minister of Health and any other agency involved to intervene in changing the story of the Physician Assistant in Ghana. Thank You.