Manasseh’s Folder: Deadlocked doctors, Dying patients and the Dead Goat

134I was one of those who thought president John Dramani Mahama’s “dead goat” statement was unfortunate. Those who disagreed with me, justified it.

They argued that those of us criticising the president had taken his statement out of context. The president was talking about expenditure in election years and promised he would tame that trend in 2016.

“I have seen more demonstrations and strikes in my first two years. I don’t think it can get worse. It is said that when you kill a goat and you frighten it with a knife, it doesn’t fear the knife because it is dead already.

“I have a dead goat syndrome,” he told the Ghanaian population in Botswana where he was on a three-day official state visit in March this year.

If we are to put the president’s statement in the context his devotees want us to put it, then the president’s statement would not only be irresponsible but dishonest as well. In election years, what shoots up the expenditure is not often salary of workers. Many reckless and fraudulent contracts and many shady deals are often signed in election years. It is believed that these are done to raise money for election campaigns.

For instance, the total expenditure on GYEEDA for 2009, 2010, 2011 is equal to GYEEDA’s expenditure in 2012 alone. The SADA contracts and many such questionable deals were entered into in 2012, which was an election year. So it will be dishonest to blame the public wage bill for rising expenditure in election years.

The reason I consider the dead goat statement as unfortunate is why workers agitate. Why would you develop a dead-goat syndrome when workers are legitimately demanding what is due them? After the wide condemnation from labour unions, some labour groups, especially those in the health sector, have acted aggressively to get their demands.

Some nursing students who had exhausted all avenues in getting their allowances picketed at the Independence Square and the Ministry of Health, and got the attention they needed. When junior doctors worked for almost a year without salary, they picketed at the Controller and Accountant General’s Department. Within two days, they started getting their salaries.

State attorneys are striking over poor conditions of service. Government pharmacists just called off an intended strike after meeting with the Chief of Staff. A lot more labour groups are breathing fire and brimstone.

The Ghana Medical Association has withdrawn its OPD services over condition of service. The doctors have threatened to withdraw emergency services if their demands are not met by next week.

For this reason, the doctors have again incurred the wrath of many. Public opinion is beginning to weigh against them. And we are beginning to call them wicked, heartless and all the bad adjectives we can think about. We are reminding them of their Hippocratic oath. We say when doctors are on strike, people die. For this reason, they dare not desert the consulting room. Anytime doctors strike, acidic tongues assail them. That is where we find ourselves right now. And government officials are expertly stoking the fire of hatred against the doctors.

If we put our emotions aside and be objective, however, we will realise that the doctors are not entirely to blame for the situation we find ourselves in. We should rather be asking why we allowed the situation to degenerate to this level. The doctors have given government enough time to have reached a deal with them.

The first time I heard that doctors in Ghana had no condition of service was when the health sector was preparing for a possible ebola outbreak. It emerged that when a medical doctor falls sick, they go through the same procedure like everyone else. If a medical doctor is treated in the hospital he works for, he has to pay for the service like anyone else.

This does not make sense. I work as a journalist but my media house has made provision for my healthcare. The media house pays my medical bills by way of insurance. So why should the doctor pay for his own medical bill? Why should a doctor pay when his wife delivers on the hospital bed where he works?

When shall we learn the wisdom in the saying that a man who lives at the river bank does not wash his hands with spittle?

The only incentive for our doctors, as it emerged in the wake of the Ebola discussion, is that if they died their bodies would be in the mortuary for two weeks without a cost to their relatives.

Is it, therefore, out of place when these doctors demand their condition of service?

A presidential staffer, Stan Dogbe, angered the medical doctors when he published the proposals and demands they have put forward in the ongoing negotiations.

“How many gallons of fuel do judges, teachers, senior public servants take? Assuming that doctors must take more than all other workers, what should be the ceiling? Will a jump from 20 to 80gallons be considered realistic?” Stan Dogbe asked in a Facebook post he wrote on the doctors’ demands.

This does not help the negotiations, which have reached a deadlock. Will Stan Dogbe be honest enough to publish all the benefits ministers of state, their deputies, and the countless presidential staffers and other unidentifiable individuals walking on the corridors of power get from the state? A lot of the nation’s wealth is sunk on people whose contribution to our GDP is negative. Can he compare the doctors’ demands with them too?

Will he stop talking about teachers and publish the benefits he (Stan Dogbe) gets from the tax payers’ sweat so that we compare it with the demands of the doctors?

We are in a precarious situation and the worst we can do is to appeal to the good conscience of the medical doctors to reduce the demands they are making. Let us see how we can meet them midway and sustain them.

I grew up in the rural area and most of the district hospitals have only one medical doctor. Some doctors run two or more districts. Even those of us in the cities can attest to the terrible nature of the facilities and conditions under which some of our doctors work.

In 2013, I visited a hospital for a check up while I was in Germany. The hospital there was like a hotel, without any form of bad smell. They work with state of the art equipment and the workload is very light. At Korle-Bu, Komfo Anokye or any of the health facilities in Ghana, you are likely to lose appetite for a whole day if you get close the winding queues of agonising patients that line up to consult medical doctors.

I have always maintained that no amount of remuneration will entice me to be a medical doctor or nurse. I cannot survive that job for a week. I can’t. It is a calling and those sacrificing to save us should not be treated with contempt.

When ebola came and some of us were afraid to shake hands or go near our own relatives, these medical doctors were exposed to the highest forms of risk. They were not paid an extra pesewa for taking that risk.

If we agree that the job of medical doctors is so important that, in their absence, lives would be lost, then it is only normal that they should be among the highest paid professionals in the country.

The problem with Ghana is not that we don’t have money. We don’t know our priorities. Hard work does not pay. Those who are working hard to keep the nation going are about the most miserable in terms of how much they earn. It is those without any job description, those who do not add a pesewa to our GDP, who are living big and acquiring properties. If we are able to deal with the corruption and broad daylight robbery of the national purse, we will have enough money to pay bills that matter.

If for all these years medical doctors have worked without condition of service and they are now demanding it, let’s give it to them. If we cannot meet all their demands, there is a better way of talking them into accepting what we can pay them than deliberately inciting public sentiments and hatred against them. This will not help anybody.

Nobody in government has raised question about the expenditure at the presidency, which often exceeds the budgetary allocation to that office. The work of the president and his office is important. So is the work of medical doctors and all those working to sustain our dear republic.

We are complaining that the medical doctors’ strike will lead to deaths. But we are already dying of basic needs while our politicians and other top public and civil servants live like Arabian Kings and Princes.

Let’s give the doctors their due. When we are able to meet their demands, we can now demand the best of service from them. In that way, we can call for the dismissal of any medical doctor who refuses posting to the rural areas.

And please, someone should remind our “dead goat” President that all of us are not immune to the devastating effects of the doctors’ strike like he and his family are. Even if his distant relative falls sick in Bole, they can be airlifted to a medical facility for treatment. But if my father falls sick in Kete-Krachi, it will be almost impossible to get him a health facility within 24 hours. The President and his family, as well as many of the government officials who do not seem to care about the doctors’ threats, are like rocks in the middle of the ocean. They may see the sun everyday but they will not feel its heat.

For people who live in cities and are rich enough to buy quality healthcare, the strike by doctors will not affect them. Even if all doctors resign from the public sector, they will not suffer. They are like crabs; they do not care about the outbreak headache.

But the ordinary Ghanaian is the casualty. And they should not suffer for the misdeeds of others. Ghana must work again.