Development Discourse with Amos Safo: Good news in tough economic times


…as Ghana exports nurses

Recently, I watched a video of Ghanaian nurses’ arrival in the Caribbean country of Barbados to practice their profession. This follows a bilateral agreement between the Governments of Ghana and Barbados for Ghana to supply nurses to boost the Caribbean country’s health sector. According to the video, a total of 122 nurses and midwives have made it to Barbados. The nurses are expected to serve in Barbados for 2 years. I have gathered that other Caribbean countries may follow the initiative of Barbados in obtaining nurses and other paramedics from Ghana, all things being equal.

Positive development

This positive development is one piece of good news for Ghana amid agonising economic difficulties which have seen fuel prices skyrocketing and the cedi facing its worse depreciation in recent memory.  The difficulties are partly blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine with its impact of the global economy, including Ghana’s. The other reason our economy is struggling is structural weakness that has consigned Ghana to being a net importer of almost everything; hence the pressure on the cedi.

The good news regarding the export of Ghanaian nurses is based on my assertion that Ghana’s economy is currently undergoing fiscal challenges, especially the cedi’s rapid depreciation and attendant inflation that has seen prices of food and other commodities soaring uncontrollably. While the export of nurses is job-creating opportunity for the numerous unemployed nurses, this policy also has the potential of generating foreign revenue in dollars by way of taxes and remittances for the economy – which is currently starved of dollars.

A spokesman of the Ministry of Health said the nurses cover a range of specialties like accident, emergency, paediatrics, and ophthalmology. Of the 122 nurses, 56 will work at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital while 66 are expected to join other areas like psychiatry and the polyclinic system. The Barbados Ministry of Health spokeswoman explained that the Ghanaian nurses arrived at a time the Caribbean country was in dire need of health specialists to fill gaps and address the nursing shortage. “Countries like Ghana are producing excellent nurses for the global market,” she pointed out.

The Ghanaian spokesman for health training institutions buttressed that Ghana is currently training nurses and doctors at a phenomenal rate, but in accordance with international standards. Annually, Ghana trains over 20,000 nurses – not all of whom can be gainfully employed in Ghana. This means Ghana is producing nurses and other specialists far and above the national requirement, hence the need for exporting these valuable human resources. “We need to support other countries, and the Barbados government is the first to sign a bilateral agreement for the export of nurses, the spokesman said.

Exodus of doctors

Previously, other western countries like the UK, USA and Canada used unorthodox means to entice Ghanaian health experts to their countries without any benefit accruing to the taxpayer, on whose sweat they were trained. There is an estimated 3,395 doctors of Ghanaian origin working in the United Kingdom alone as of 2021.

In 2021, a Ghanaian medical doctor based in the United States, Dr Michael Obeng, revealed that there are more Ghanaian physicians in New York City, America, than there are in Ghana. According to him, medical practitioners feel comfortable working abroad because they receive better care and respect for their work than in Ghana. The main reason for the mass exodus of Ghanaians, according to the Ghanaian surgeon, is that Ghanaian doctors are not receiving better incentives.

“We need to take care of our doctors, so they don’t leave. We don’t take healthcare seriously,” he said on a radio discussion in 2021. Dr. Obeng said even though some improvements have been made in the healthcare system 30 years after he left Ghana, there is much more to do before Ghana’s healthcare system can be considered one of the best.

Much as I agree that the working conditions of Ghana’s health professionals need to improve, I disagree with doctor Obeng’s justification for the exodus of Ghanaian trained doctors. It is unfair and unpatriotic that doctors to seek greener pastures soon after their training on the sweat of Ghanaian taxpayers. Why should rich western countries benefit from the toil of taxpayers without any form of returns?

It is expected that the 122 nurses who have the opportunity to serve in Barbados will uphold the highest standard of professionalism and work ethics, devoid of the arrogance and lack of empathy associated with some nurses. Ghanaian nurses in both private and public hospitals have gained notoriety for insensitivity and poor service to their patients. The 122 are ambassadors and torchbearers of the nursing profession in Ghana; so any positive or negative attitude they portray in Barbados can make or unmake future agreements between Ghana and other countries for the supply of health specialists.

Competitive advantage

It is becoming increasingly clear that Ghana has a competitive advantage in training health personnel, judging from the high demand for our health experts in Europe and America. The problem is our usual failure to take advantage of our competitiveness in many fields. Rather than broadening the scope and creating an enabling environment for more professionals to be trained, we have made admission to nursing and medical schools a privilege – with the usual protocol list dominating admission.  However, the impression one gets is that one cannot become a doctor unless there is a trace of medical practitioners in one’s family. This attitude continues to widen the social and economic gaps in Ghana.

Perhaps with the huge investments in Free Senior High School (SHS), Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) it is a matter of time before Ghana becomes highly competitive in human resource and manpower development for local use and export.  All said, while the economy may be under pressure for now, if the country overcomes current economic hardships Ghana’s focus should be on improving our competitiveness – and certainly, education and manpower development is a sector to invest in.

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