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Written by Samuel K. Obour - You cannot imagine what doctors go through - how difficult life is for them. The hustle and bustle of the job will not allow them time for themselves and their family. Imagine getting a call in the middle of the night to come attend to an emergency, for instance. Imagine spending 10 hours straight in a surgical theatre, trying to save someone's live. But all these for what?

I had absolutely no idea how horrendous the conditions of service of Ghanaian doctors were until I had an eye-opening chat with a close friend, Dr. Hubert Aheto?.

First, doctors are exposed to communicable diseases on a daily basis, which put them and their families at risk. ”It will shock you to know that sometimes we don't have gloves and face masks to use in such cases,” Dr. Aheto of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital told me.

He said some of his colleagues, who had “needle stick injuries from HIV-positive and Hepatitis patients”, received no compensation from the government.

I was shocked to learn that if doctors get any injuries or infections in the course of their work, they foot the bill for treatment themselves. There is no support whatsoever from the government.

In what exemplifies the altruistic nature of many medical practitioners in Ghana, the doctor said: “Out of the meagre salary that public sector doctors get, we always contribute to the purchase of medications for some patients out of compassion for the job. We go the full length to make sure patients are well, but nobody has any conditions for us to also get better when we become vulnerable.”

He added that, “Most doctors in the public sector retire as paupers and live on meagre pensions because there's no retirement package [for them] after over 30 years of faithful service.”

Needless to say, the current situation is appalling and unacceptable. What is supposed to be the Ghana’s most decent job is actually nothing like that in practice. From salaries to allowances to welfare to perks, doctors lag far behind other professionals in the country, especially in the private sector. This is immoral and unjust, considering the utter stress, loneliness, disillusionment and the emotional trauma that accompany the work of a medical practitioner.

This is why I rigorously support the doctors’ demand for improved conditions of service. It is really a no-brainer - They incontrovertibly deserve it.

To state that doctors are indispensable is to state the obvious. The service they offer – saving lives – is unique and invaluable. We can never do without them. In this regard, it’s not only fair, but also imperative that doctors are given an extraordinary treat in respect of their conditions of service.

However, while I resolutely and unrepentantly support doctors’ demand for improved remuneration, it has to be said that the approach they have adopted in pursuing that cause is, to put it mildly, not the best.

I do not believe that embarking on a strike is the best way for doctors to get their welfare improved.

Even if the withdrawal of Out Patient Department (OPD) services can be justified in the extreme, I cannot fathom a justification for the withdrawal of emergency services.

It will be unconscionable for doctors to stand idly by as innocent people die in the hospitals. It will be a conscienceless act irresponsibility for doctors to sacrifice the lives of innocent Ghanaians just so that they can get their conditions of service improved. Not only does that contravene the sacred ethics of their profession, it is also inconsistent with our doctors’ own tendency to be altruistic and selfless.

The current impasse puts everybody at risk. This is why I shake my head each time I hear social commentators basically tell the doctors to go to hell. Of course, a lot of those people think that have enough money to seek healthcare in private hospitals for as long as the current strike continues. But they are being very naïve because anybody can find themselves in need of emergency healthcare at any point in time.

If you collapse in town or get involved in accident, for instance, good Samaritans will instinctively rush you to a public hospital. You won’t even be conscious to tell them that, ‘Ehn, take me to a private hospital.’ And when you get a public hospital and there is no one to attend to you, then you will see your foolishness. What if your child needs emergency healthcare in school and doctors at the nearest hospital are on strike? I don’t even want to imagine that.

We are all vulnerable as long as the strike continues. This is why I want to appeal to the doctors to immediately call off the strike and go back to the negotiating table. The current posturing of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) is not the best. It is, as someone put, tantamount to pointing a gun at the head of government to force it to acquiesce to the demands of the doctors. This is no longer negotiation, but blackmail.The GMA can and must do better than this.

What doctors want can only be realised through tact and diplomacy, and not force. Doctors should, therefore, heed government’s call and negotiate for the best deal possible. If a deal is still not reached after negotiations, and doctors remain dissatisfied after all other legal avenues have been exhausted, then they may be justified in raising the stakes by sitting at home.

Although public opinion is rightly on the side of the doctors at this time, if the strike continues and lives are unnecessarily lost, doctors will be left to fight alone. I’m confident and optimistic that our dignified and highly-esteemed doctors will not let it come to this.

God bless our homeland land, Ghana.


Written by Samuel K. Obour, culled from graphic.com.gh


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