Open Letter to: Dr. Ebenezer Appiah-Denkyira, Director-General Ghana Health Service
From: Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Investigative Journalist
Date: 26th November 2014
A Scourge we must Purge
“Seldom, very seldom does complete truth belong to any human disclosure” – Jane Austen, Emma
The traditional measure of success in our healthcare system has often focused on the percentage decreases in reported cases of certain diseases. As we bask in the glory of having a comparatively better health care system and wallow in the good tiding of having eradicated polio and guinea-worm, we should note that not all that glitters is gold.
Unfortunately, as you and I know, the sweet-sounding statistics could be a flattering piece of self-deception as they ignore the large number of ailments reported to quack doctors and unregistered health centres across the country and its attendant deadly problems, a phenomena, which is the subject of my recent investigative piece with Rosemary Nwaebuni of Nigeria.
I have been prompted by several events to send this open letter to you in the interest of healthcare in Ghana, Africa and beyond. It is about the seeming failure or impotence of our regulatory system, in the face of the mayhem caused by unregulated health facilities and health professionals. It is about the chaos that portrays itself as weak or no regulation in the practice of healthcare; the anarchy that permits laboratories to operate without control and regulation, leading to false and missed diagnoses; the lawlessness that allows hawkers and sellers to peddle all sorts of medicines in both urban and rural areas, sometimes in moving vehicles. Finally, it is about the laxity that allows quack doctors and fake clinics to operate with impunity.
Sometime in 2012, I went undercover – at great personal risk – to reveal the harrowing activities of a fake doctor, Joshua Drah, who operated an illegal abortion “clinic”, the Universal Mission Clinic in Madina, Accra. Not only did this “doctor” go against the laws of Ghana to perform termination of pregnancy – he also engaged in the despicable, inhumane and dastardly act of extracting his “pound of flesh” by having sexual intercourse with the would-be victims before performing the illegal, unsafe and dangerous abortions.
There was hue and cry in the media about this story, but did the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service take any action? As I write to you, Drah is back at work in the same clinic and still referring to himself and being seen as a doctor! This was only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are worse.
More worryingly, it is impossible to have figures from official sources on the true scale of the problem or, should we call it, the scourge of fake doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health workers. Not to talk of fake healthcare facilities including hospitals, clinics, midwifery homes, pharmacies, licensed/unlicensed chemical sellers shops and diagnostic laboratories. The negative health impact of these can only be imagined. In some cases, there are either no or very poorly enforced legislation allowing these facilities to carry on their activities unfettered, unrestricted and unhindered as their victims die needlessly with each passing day. Ghanaians and Africans deserve better.
Sir, I am sure you will be wondering why I am coming back to this issue now. My overwhelming sense of frustration and helplessness tipped over when I completed an undercover operation on healthcare in Nigeria, a feature documentary which will be shown on Al Jazeera TV for the first time on Wednesday 26th November 2014 at 22.30 GMT and on the Internet thereafter. It will also be aired on November 27th at 09.30 GMT; November 28th at 03.30 GMT ; November 29th at 16.30 GMT, November 30th at 05.30 GMT.
In that operation, I uncovered the bizarre, inhumane and greedy activities of fake doctors in Nigeria all of whom appear to be driven by only one motive: money! Regardless of the consequences to human life! In one facility, abortions are performed willy-nilly, injuring and maiming scores of women most of them scarred physically and psychologically for life. Some will never be able to have children in their lifetime and others will have to spend huge sums of money to solve the physical complications caused by the illegal and botched surgeries.
These findings made me realise the overwhelming helplessness of our situation in Ghana, Nigeria and probably most of Africa. Whose job is it to ensure that these things do not happen? How can the poor woman, man or child, ensure that the treatment they get and the facilities they visit are legitimate and how are they to know? Who will protect the population from these people most of whom dress so appropriately in line with their ‘’profession’’ that it is impossible to know whether they are real or fake?
And by the way, how can anyone know who a nationally approved doctor, nurse, pharmacist or laboratory technologist is and how can anyone in Ghana know which hospital, clinic, pharmacy or laboratory is registered by the state? Ghanaians, Nigerians and Africans are in trouble if their governments do not work to ensure that the menace of quackery in healthcare is dealt with. Our very lives are at stake!
I wish to inform you, sir, that I have also done an exposé on the brazen theft of food aid in the health service in the Northern Region of Ghana. This piece was inspired by the mournful fact that hunger kills more children than Malaria, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis put together.
In the course of the investigation, it was established that it is not natural factors alone that are responsible for the widespread hunger up north; greed and abuse of trust on the part of officials in charge of the distribution of food aid is largely to blame. The special food supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP) meant for pregnant women, malnourished children and HIV/AIDS patients are routinely stolen under the cloak of the Ghana Health Service.
The food supplies donated by the WFP are supposed to be distributed at the clinics run by the Ghana Health Service, but are often stolen out of the mouths of the intended beneficiaries. The malnourished and ill pregnant women and children have to travel, often long distances, to get to the few clinics, which provide this much needed food. But when they get to the clinic, it is usually only disappointment on offer.
This investigative piece is titled “Cereal Killers” and it unmasks the criminals within the Ghana Health Service who facilitate the thievery. It is also due to be aired on Aljazeera TV according to the following schedule:
3rd December, 2014 at 22.30 GMT; 4TH December at o9.30 GMT; 5TH December 03.30 GMT; 6th December, at 16.30 GMT, 7TH December at 05.30 GMT.
I have done my bit for Ghana and Nigeria. I will continue doing my bit for Africa and Ghana especially but if the powers that be do not take the necessary actions, what will be the point of my dangerous and often risky missions? I put my life at risk to raise an alarm for the protection of the population, in the hope that this sacrifice will elicit the appropriate response.
I note with pride and satisfaction that a number of the villains of our previous exposes have been successfully prosecuted. I hope that the authorities will pursue those we are exposing now to the logical conclusion as we prosecute the agenda to name shame and jail the nation-wreckers.
Ghana deserves better and we have to do whatever it takes to ensure that she gets better. We have no other choice! The time to act must be now. Tomorrow may be too late.
Thank you, sir, for your kind attention.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas,