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Opinions of Monday, 6 October 2014

Columnist: Ayisi, Gabriel A.

US Organization to Build Ultra-Modern Hospital in Ghana

Ninth Annual West African Health Foundation Fund Raising

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Gabriel A. Ayisi

Chairperson, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, permit me to use this opportunity to welcome you all to this important gathering sponsored by the West African Health Foundation (WAHF). I am indeed humbled by your presence at such a function dedicated to helping with the health and economic development of Mother Ghana. Your presence today is an indication of the love you have, not only for Ghana and the West African sub-region, but also for the health needs and welfare of its people. The Foundation’s mission is “to promote health through wellness education and disease prevention through unrestricted comprehensive medical and public health outreach interventions and educational programs.” The long term goal of WAHF is the commitment to set up a world class health facility in Ghana and make quality healthcare affordable to the people of Ghana and the West Africa sub-region. 

Ghana, as a country, is destined for greatness but hitherto, its development can at best be described as disjointed with little or no proper coordination. Developmentally, how well are we managing and maintaining our natural resources? How well are we managing and maintaining our hospitals? Our hospitals are badly resourced and maintained and have been few, with no new major ones being built, despite the quantum increases in the country's population. Take Accra for instance, its population has increased tremendously due to rural-urban migration, yet Accra can only boast of Korlebu, The Military, Ridge, SSNIT, Police hospitals, and lately the FOCOS hospital, Swedish-Ghana Medical Center, and Lister Hospital. Most of these hospitals were built when Accra's population was less than 25% of what it is today. The same applies to Kumasi. The only major hospitals the city has known for years, despite galloping increase in its population, have been KATH and KNUST Hospitals. Unfortunately, all these are being allowed to skew disadvantageously despite sizable increases in the population of the youth, the elderly, and the retired. 

Take any other sector of the economy, and you see much of the same. The Government's poverty reduction measures have not trickled down to the rural areas. Hospitals and clinics must be planned and sited in these areas, and this is the reason, I believe and hope, the WAHF hospital is going to be strategically sited in Juaben in a rural community. Our farmers, for now, play the most important role in Ghana's economy, yet, they are far removed from adequate health facilities with the majority of them relying on traditional and untested treatments and, in some cases, on quack doctors. The Foundation (WAHF) believes that a modern hospital is an undertaking that brings together professionals from different disciplines and backgrounds – with a common purpose and focus of wellness promotion: disease prevention, management of illnesses, ailments and afflictions. 

The WAHF hospital, when established, will buy the farm produce from the farmers in the locality to feed patients, hospital employees and visitors. It will also contract with them to cultivate plants and herbs of medicinal value. WAHF envisages a nascent pharmaceutical industry that will add value to the local plants and herbs of medicinal potential as a result of this collaboration and synergy. 

What are the causes of this underdevelopment that has necessitated the West African Health Foundation to undertake the building of such a hospital in Ghana? Interestingly, because Ghana, as a nation, has failed to develop its economy, our youth are forced to emigrate in search of greener pastures outside our shores. Literally, we have, in addition to exporting our raw materials, become exporters of labor including our intellectual capital for the development of other countries to the detriment of our own.

A recent World Bank survey shows that African universities are exporting a large percentage of their graduating manpower to the United States. In a given year, the World Bank estimates that 70,000 skilled Africans emigrate to Europe and the United States. The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana recently declared that while these 70,000 skilled Africans are fleeing the continent in search of employment and decent wages in developed countries, Africa spends an estimated US4 billion annually to recruit about 100,000 skilled expatriates, who are paid wages higher than the prevailing rates in Europe, to replace them.

The Prime Minister of Jamaica also observed that during the 1977-80 period, over 8,000 top professionals comprising about 50% of the country's most highly trained citizens left the country, primarily, for the United States. He estimated that it cost his country about $168.5 million or $20,000 per head to educate these people. During the same period, he observed that U.S. aid to Jamaica amounted to a total of $116.3 million.

Each year, 6,000 Taiwanese come to the United States to study but only 20% return home. A few years ago, Zambia had 1,600 medical doctors. Today, Zambia has only 400 medical doctors. Kenya retains only 10% of the nurses and doctors trained there.

The burden of these losses is all heavier for the developing countries, since migrant doctors, engineers, and scientists tend to leave their countries during the most productive years of their lives. Highly trained manpower constitutes the very foundation for national development and sustained economic growth, therefore, training such people and losing them through brain drain, African countries suffer a double loss. The above is indicative that, merely increasing educational opportunities without corresponding increases in job opportunities to match the graduation rate makes nonsense of our education by fueling brain drain. 

For Ghana to make its oil find impact the country positively rather than as a curse, we need to concentrate its resources solely on the development of the country into a middle income economy in the short-term, and thence into a first world economy in the long-term. I believe that Ghana can become the Japan, the Singapore, the Malaysia, the Dubai (United Arab Emirates), all rolled into one, of Africa.

Dear Friends, for an improvement in the quality of life of the ordinary Ghanaian, we need to monitor and match the country's natural growth by concurrently increasing infrastructure and job opportunities to keep pace with our population growth: we need to build more schools and hospitals as our population grows; we need to build more and better roads as the number of automobiles in the country increases. Ghana’s economic growth cannot and must not stagnate. The Government must set the stage for an accelerated and sustained development by making sure that all our developmental infrastructures are in place, of top quality and futuristic in nature. Gone should be the days when we built shoddy or substandard roads, weak/insufficient energy structures, despicable health facilities, redundant education, unreliable, sporadic, and inferior communication networks, corrupt judicial and weak political structures, just to mention a few. We need to build a complex network of first class roads and inter-regional highways. It is time to link the north of the country to the south by rail, develop a first class water transportation system along the length and breadth of the Volta Lake, all to facilitate the movement of goods and people and open up the country for massive industrialization and development. Power outages must be a thing of the past. Ghana needs to embark on proactive development rather than reactive development. We must also ensure constant and adequate supply of water by managing our water resources in an efficient manner for consumption and industrial purposes. Our ICT systems must be upgraded to match the best around the world if we are to join the communication and the cyber age and compete effectively in the global village. Our development efforts will also need the support of a robust banking system. Our health sector must be improved across the board to benefit the citizenry. A successful economy will depend, to a large extent, on the excellent health of its people. Our homeland security system must also be top-notch to absorb all internal and external shocks. Our judiciary must be completely devoid of corruption and government influence. Our education system must be reformed and retooled to make it developmentally appropriate to support the civil service and private industry, as is being done at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, where new academic programs are being developed to support Ghana’s budding oil industry. Our ports and harbors need to be revamped with the 22nd century in mind and expanded to handle not only Ghana's needs, but also, those of our neighboring land-locked countries – earning more foreign exchange for the country. When all these are in place, it is only natural that the private sector, both local and foreign, will have the confidence and invest heavily in Ghana’s economy, creating jobs in abundance to absorb the youth, thereby, effectively nipping brain drain in the bud, and even reversing it. All these will lead to improvements in job creation, increased employment, higher gross national productivity, higher personal incomes, savings, and consumption which will eventually lead to poverty alleviation and improved standards of living for all Ghanaians. 

To avoid relying solely on the oil revenue and be able to employ the youth, the country needs to broad-base its economy by aggressively diversifying and encourage entrepreneurship through the private sector to create massive job opportunities across all regions. Days when the government, through the civil service, was the largest employer in the economy must be a thing of the past. We need to embark on a massive industrialization of the economy and target both the domestic and export markets, especially, the developing economies. Days when the economy depended on a handful of commodities must be a thing of the past. However, diversification is not enough if it does not include a vertical integration mode of production where value is added to our raw material resources through an extensive manufacturing paradigm. One thing is clear, every time we export our raw materials abroad to the Americas, Europe, China, etc. it is jobs that could be created in Ghana that are being exported. By continuing to do this, we inadvertently and effectively create jobs in America, Europe, and China which pushes their economies to almost full employment, while our unemployment figures hover around an unhealthy 20%. This is what is happening to our economy every time we ship raw materials such as cocoa, pineapples, timber, gold, diamonds, bauxite, oil, etc. in their raw forms. This is the fundamental cause of our economic woes and the prevalence of “Street Children”. For how much longer will we continue to be the producers of raw materials to feed factories in the West and around the world except in our own country? 

As part of government policy, and in line with job creation and poverty reduction, extractive industries – oil and other mining companies - must be required to agree to refine a percentage of their mineral and oil extractions into finished products or some level of refinement in the country before being granted concessions, instead of the unequivocal wholesale EXPORT of their extractions in their raw forms to create jobs in other countries. Industrial sandpaper is made from alumina and bauxite, both of which are mined in abundance in Ghana, but Ghana does not produce a single sand paper. We have the capacity to supply the whole world with industrial sand paper, but have we done so? I have been advocating this innovative economic development policy/idea in most of my writing-ups and finally, it appears the President of Ghana has heard my clarion call: On January 22, 2013, President John Mahama announced at the World Economic Forum session on Responsible Mineral Development Initiative in Davos, Switzerland, plans to seek international cooperation to move Ghana from being a primary producer of mineral resources to adding value to its minerals.

For us to accelerate our development and sustain it, Ghana needs to reverse the brain drain and turn it into a positive conduit for development. We need Ghanaians in the diaspora to assist in the development of Ghana with innovative ideas and resources. With their rigorous, connection in the respective host countries as well as the mother country, the diaspora can contribute in two ways for brain gain to take hold: preferably, they can physically relocate back to the Ghana and help with its development and invest in the home country and play direct active part in the development of the economy. Many of those who want to return to Ghana, nonetheless, are apprehensive of the inadequate and under resourced health care system in the country. This is why The West African Health Foundation (WAHF) wants to get involved by establishing a specialty hospital in Ghana and make sure that we play a part in making some inroads towards the adequacy of the health care system to allay the fears of the returnees. The government must provide incentive packages solely to entice the diaspora to relocate. 

On the other hand, many skilled diaspora, wherever they may be located, have the potential to contribute to the development of Ghana without necessarily relocating physically back home. Information and distributed computing technologies provide a new way to enable distance cooperation. In an effort to change this trend, UNESCO and Hewlett Packard joined forces in 2003 to develop several projects, using innovative technology to create a “brain gain” for regions that are particularly impacted by the exodus of academics and scientists

The benefits of brain gain can be surmised and measured as remittances, direct investments, availing the country of the expertise of the diaspora in their various fields of competence, social networking that links the diaspora with their country of origin etc. Furthermore, through success and visibility in host societies, the diaspora can influence economic and political benefits for their home countries. This type of brain gain becomes an element of soft power for the source country in the long term. Ghanaian Diaspora in the United States and other parts of the world can be positive agents of change and development of economic and political issues to counter the ill-effects of emigration and brain drain. 

Dear friends, let’s not ask what our country can do for us, but instead, what we can do for our country. Let us all get on board the development train irrespective of our global location, and take active part in the development of Ghana, directly or indirectly. Let's all help to make Ghana an OASIS OF DEVELOPMENT IN A DESERT OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT by replacing selfishness with selflessness in our attitudes and governance, by replacing apathy with patriotism, by replacing complacency with a can-do and willing attitude and by replacing a cycle of poverty with a cycle of investments, job creation, individual and national prosperity. Let's keep the peace and stability to further our onward development. Let's work hard to make Ghana the industrial hub of Africa. Thank You.