Feature Article of Thursday, 24 July 2008

Columnist: Panford, Kwamina Mbra

Death of Dr. Hayford De-Graft Yankah: A Huge Loss

The Tragic Death of Dr. Hayford De-Graft Yankah: A Huge Loss to the Ghanaian Medical Community.

I feel literally compelled to send my first feature article or commentary to the Ghana web due to the untimely death of Dr. Hayford De-Graft Yankah, a 55-year-old Ghanaian urologist as reported by the Ghana web and by other media in Ghana.

As much as Dr. Yankah’s death is tragic and indeed untimely, his sudden passing compels me to make some observations about Ghana/Africa’s current affairs and the gigantic brain drain dilemma that all African countries face. Initially, when one of my Graduate Assistants printed the article announcing Dr. Yankah’s death, my reaction was “Oh! what a tragic situation.” On further reflection, I began to feel I knew him. Therefore, I called Cape Coast University and emailed my colleagues in Ghana to verify if I knew Dr. Yankah. To my horror, my worst nightmare came true!

It was the Dr. Yankah I met in Ghana almost two years ago. I was visiting Cape Coast University’s Centre for Development Studies (CDS) as a consultant/lecturer for the Labor Policy Studies (LPS) program when Dr. Aaron Ofei-Danso, the Central Regional Director of Health gave me a tour of Cape Coast’s ‘hidden gem’ – the Regional Hospital. I thought I was quite familiar with Cape Coast and developments in Ghana but my tour of the Cape Coast Regional Hospital was a real delight. The facilities I saw were impressive. It was also exhilarating for me to see how well kept Wesley Girl’s High School was. I also toured the new campus of Cape Coast Poly and a half million Catholic Church student Hostel built by my friend, J.P. Johnson ( Peejay) a popular building contractor.

But the real extraordinary delight for me was being introduced to Dr. Yankah, a successful urologist who was visiting from Alabama and was using his medical expertise to assist the people of the Central Region. He was enthusiastic about donating his medical expertise and on top of that arranging for the Regional Hospital to receive two or more electricity generators. For anyone familiar with the power problems of contemporary Ghana – the so-called “load shedding” exercises by the Volta River Authority/Electricity Corporation of Ghana – one can see how important those power generators were. In fact, Dr Yankah informed me and the Regional Director of Health that another generator was on its way to complement the ones he had already arranged for.

I wish to underscore the impact of this selfless individual by drawing attention to the following. Dr. Yankah, like Professor Frimpong Boateng of Korle Bu, in a quiet way was steadily whittling away at Ghana’s gigantic brain drain and power problems. When Africa and especially Ghana, spends billions of foreign currencies employing foreign “experts” of all sorts – some competent and mostly not competent, Dr. Yankah in his unassuming way was filling a crucial national health care void. He also alluded to and explained a critical bottleneck that most Ghanaians/Africans face when they embark on a return home to work. In most, but not all cases, they face enormous obstacles including non-cooperation by some of their locally based colleagues. Dr. Yankah referred to some of the “hassles” he faced from some of his medical colleagues in Ghana.

I wish to draw attention to the fact that the sacrifices Dr. Yankah made become more glaring when we consider the fact that Koforidua has no Regional Hospital because it is alleged that the land earmarked for the hospital has been usurped by one individual to build a hotel, thus depriving the people of the Eastern Region of a valuable health facility. While Ghanaians struggle with inadequate and expensive health care for instance, the Ghanaian President himself in June/July 2008 squandered £32,000 ($64,000) on getting himself a white and yellow gold medallion on top of the over $20 million wasted on Ghana@50 celebrations. As we say in Ghana, “to add insult to injury,” even though Ghana is a top gold producer, the expensive medals were imported, just like all expensive gold wedding bands and other jewelry are imported. Under inept and uncaring leadership, we have literally surrendered all the raw gold we produce to overseas companies for refinement and the production of jewelry which we then use our scarce foreign exchanges to buy back expensively.

In light of the fact that Africa in the last two decades has been spending $4 billion annually on so called foreign experts, I wish to say to the bereaved family of Dr. Yankah that he did not die in vain. That rather, he inspired some of us to reflect on and keep pressing in small ways to follow in his heroic footsteps of selfless national service. Dr. Yankah’s dedicated services are reminiscent of the efforts of dedicated Ghanaians at home and overseas who toil to send beds and medicine to hospitals, computers/books to schools and associations like the Ghana Association of Boston that help the youth and adults of Ghana by providing financial and other assistance to cities such as Sekondi-Takoradi and Koforidua, Eastern Region. Currently the Ghana Association of Boston is leading a fund raising drive for the new Koforidua Public Library.

Dr. Yankah’s dedicated services to Ghana are the type of behaviors that are genuinely meritorious of national awards because they demonstrate practically what each one of us can do to make Ghana and for that matter Africa a little better as opposed to mere complaints and rhetoric while our current leaders /politicians enjoy unearned wealth. This is wealth they enjoy at the expense of the majority of Ghanaians/Africans. Shame on all of us for allowing this to continue with no end in sight.

Kwamina Panford, Boston, MA