Opinion: Ghana’s healthcare horrors; on life, birth and the pursuit of power

Health Care.  A right? A privilege? A nightmare? Depending on where you live, it can be all three. New figures released from Ghana’s Health Care Service show in the  Northern region, there were 132 deaths in 2016 due to maternity related issues. 72 deaths occurred between January and June of this year.

Every number tells a story.

These latest figures are maddening because we are again reminded that these deaths are often preventable. In the Northern region – from which these latest figures emerge – we learn that the long distances patients have to travel to visit health centres can be dangerous.  We discover heavily pregnant women, in labour, are carried on motor bikes or donkey carts. According to Dr. Braimah Abubakari, the Deputy Regional Director in charge of Clinical Health at the Ghana Health Service, National Ambulance Service can’t operate there as many of the women are anemic.

Maternal healthcare is a horror story in Ghana. Do mothers’ lives matter? What is the basic minimum health care a citizen should expect?

Ghana is a nation that reveres mothers. Mother’s Day glows with tributes and it is globally celebrated. In Accra, walk into any hotel on Mother’s Day and families are gathered celebrating the mothers of their particular clan.

When it comes to mothers  we articulate narratives of respect,  we practice policies of neglect.  This is a contradiction and hypocrisy that we must address. We revere them and their station. We neglect and condemn them to horrific conditions in order to actually become mothers. And we shame women who may decide motherhood is not their path, or for whom – whatever the reason – children do not have a place.

Walk into a maternity unit in Accra’s public hospitals, pregnant women lie on the floors on mattresses due to a lack of beds. In addition, there is the list of unfinished projects, incomplete maternal units that would ease this resolvable issue that threatens mothers’ and their newborns health.

Health Care’s horrors are not limited to the appalling treatment mothers’ face giving birth to future generations.  Weekly, stories or headlines reveal how neglect, a deficit of medicine, an issue with personnel, equipment, incompetence has snatched a life and turned a future into a corpse. Sadly, these are not new stories.

On July 24th, there was a headline and the tragic story of a father who buried his 21-year old daughter due to his inability to pay cash for a blood transfusion at one blood bank. He was a blood donor, as was his daughter. Neither fact served his plight. He was told to look elsewhere for blood for a transfusion. The time it took looking for that blood turned health care into a horror story for a desperate dad. His 21 year old blood transfusion seeking child spent her last hours being reminded cash trumps care.

Health care has become a lottery. It’s a gambling den where the odds are in your favour if you have the kind of money to pay individual nurses or doctors for the ‘extras’ that actually amount to basic health care.

Ghana is very similar to  the US in its approach to health care. On my first visit to New York with a group of friends, one of them fell sick.  We took her to a Brooklyn hospital. The stories in Ghana of nurses’ poor treatment of patients, of being distracted, uninterested, sometimes cruel were true of the New York hospital in which my friend got treatment. We were appalled.

Ghana’s health care system mirrors that of America.  We are held hostage by a health care system that places cash before care.  What unites us all when it comes to hospitals and health care is vulnerability.  The person who is sick and their loved ones  are all vulnerable and therefore health care holds a particular power.

For those with the money in Ghana, they abandon the health care horror stories the majority experiences, hop on planes and get health care in other countries.  We play politics with our health care.

And then there is political health care.

Given the constant critique of the NDC by former  Attorney General Martin Amidu, the most recent evisceration of NDC Founder Jerry Rawlings and Mr. Martin Amidu by former NDC Deputy Chief of Staff Valerie Sawyer – are we witnessing a party in need of a political blood transfusion? What blood type would be required to resurrect a party that seems determined to implode and is on the brink of flat-lining?  Certainly, there is some political surgery underway. Excavating the lost votes and failures from a lost election requires invasive procedure. Anesthetics rarely work when doing this kind of political health labour.

Losing political power can feel like losing blood – you get weaker, you seek transfusion.  Resurrection from political flat-lining might mean reimagining a relationship with power.

I believe a robust political opposition – irrespective of party – is necessary as part of a healthy democracy that constantly keeps a ruling party on its toes and reminds citizens of their power to choose. Right now, I don’t know how many see the NDC as an option as much as an opportunity to learn lessons about what leadership is and what it is not.

In Ghana, I find the incessant politicization of the tiniest thing as an obstacle to thorough, engaging and necessary discourse. As a citizen, I am invested in working policy that leads to the progress of a people. I care deeply about development and we as a nation emerging from colonialism’s legacy. That is crucial so we can be part of a future that continues the work of an independence movement and creates an inter-dependent nation within a Continent.

The US is dealing with its own catastrophic political health. The rollercoaster ride that is the leadership of President Trump with its pit stops of revelations, allegations and shenanigans should give us all pause.  From alleged family ties with Russia to a revolving door of key positions to 140 character obsession, observing this Presidency feels like being witness to the decline of a Superpower in spectacular, cant-look-away car crash fashion.

Citizens’ health care is made up of multiple factors.

It starts with life. You have to have one in order to reimagine it. Maternal health care is a resolvable horror story.

Citizens’ health care requires a robust political system.  That means two strong political parties offering real ideas on how to resolve a nation’s challenges, matters. That is not what we have now.  Political issues and politicized issues are not the same. We trade in the latter at the expense of the former.

Politics matter. Health care matters. Our lives matter.  If only we treated basic health care, maternal health care with the same reverence as we do our party politics or even our football?

Health care need not stay a nightmare.

From these ashes of neglect, our physical and political health care can be infused with new blood, not the kind that poisons itself, but Blood Type ‘P’ – the blood type of Progress.



Source: Esther A. Armah/Africafeeds.com

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