Together for a fairer, healthier world


The piercing shrill cry filled the hallway leading to the ward. This was followed by a mother running as quickly as her heart, which had just been shattered, would allow her. She threw her frame over the little boy who looked so calm and cold.

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He reported late but he was the life of the ward. He had just had surgery and was young, but was placed in the adult male ward. The older men were so glad to have him around. Some paid for his drugs, some consultants agreed to cover the cost of surgery, the nurses loved him. The silence that greeted his demise was loud.   

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I know many of my colleagues, just like me, heave a sigh of relief when the day is over. Nothing ever prepares you for what you encounter in any hospital setting; and with a system that is hell bent on failing the patient and health worker, the miracles we achieve in this country are countless. I agree we can do better. Every concern, every rant, however ignorant, is valid. It is human life at play here, and no one has been promised two lives. Many talk from the pain of having lost a loved one, and I have also had some calmly say ‘thank you’ amid tears because they saw the frantic efforts at saving the now-deceased… and the images, like the two short stories above, never leave you.

Major causes of death in Ghana have shifted from predominantly communicable diseases to a combination of communicable and chronic non-communicable diseases over the last few decades. Urbanisation, changing lifestyles (including poor diet), globalisation and weak health systems are implicated in chronic disease risk, morbidity and mortality.

The pandemic has shown that one lesson should be touted in everything that has health around it: prevention is better than cure. The timeless lessons of personal and environmental hygiene, good diet, enough sleep, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and reporting early to health facilities for care cannot be overemphasised. COVID-19 has shown us that teamwork is needed to beat anything that threatens health in any way.

By teamwork, I mean community participation. If we are going to see any improvement in patient care and outcomes, disease burdens and mortality, we need to involve every community. The strategy of health education employed in this season can be applied to just about every disease.

We need to let people know the risk factors, presentations and complications of those diseases which fill our out-patient departments. We need to tell them to get regular check-ups. We need to tell them to clean their environment. We need to do everything to prevent them from coming to our facilities. We cannot be in a reactive mode anymore.

Ghana has a history of endorsing several international, regional and sub-regional resolutions and declarations – almost everything that has to do with health, and we have little to show for it. To bridge the gulf between policy rhetoric and implementation, joint action by all and sundry is needed.

Government needs to give high priority to policies and funded programmes for the prevention and control of diseases. Public-private partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry should aim to ensure availability, affordability and accessibility to drugs. We should aim to reduce the rate of incidence for road traffic accidents and enforce all road safety regulations.

Our doctor-patient ratio is alarming (1:10,450); and if we can achieve that which I have outlined here, the number of patients would reduce significantly. We need to prop-up our health system on the wheels of public education and a change in public behaviour. Those two would have prevented the two young boys up there from dying from malaria and typhoid perforation respectively. The first was 4, the second was 9.

>>>This piece is originally for Medifem Hospital’s “Oh My Health!” (OMH) Health Advocacy Programme.

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