This blog post was my presentation for the Simon Fraser University’s “Engaging Diaspora in Development” symposium.
Health care could be defined as the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease, illness, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in humans. The health care system requires a robust financing mechanism; a well-trained and adequately paid workforce; reliable information on which to base decisions and policies; and well-maintained facilities, equipment and logistics to deliver quality medical care and technologies.
Health care delivery in the developing world is crucial and its impact on the socio-economic conditions of these countries cannot be over-emphasized. If this important area were left alone to these nations where resources — especially financial resources — are limited and are also competing with other necessities like infrastructural development, food, education, environmental issues, safety and security, there would be a high risk of lack of health care needs.
In Ghana, the majority of health care is provided by the government; however, hospitals and clinics run by religious groups also play an important role. Some for-profit clinics exist, but they provide less than 2% of health services. The major urban centres are well served, yet rural areas often have no modern health care. Patients in these areas either rely on traditional medicine or they travel great distances for care.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistical information system, in 2006, government expenditure on health as a percentage of total government expenditure was 6.8% in Ghana compared to 17.9% in Canada and 19.1% in the United States.
From the same source, adult mortality rate (possibility of dying between the ages of 15 to 60 years per 1000 people) in Ghana was 272 in the year 1990 compared to 102 in Canada; 298 in 2000 compared to 81 in Canada; and 331 in 2006 compared to 72 in Canada.
The number of physicians in Ghana in 2004 was 3,240, compared to 62,307 in Canada and 730,801 in the States in 2000.
British Columbia has 22 physicians per 10,000 people while Ghana has 2 per 10,000 people.
From these statistics, it cannot be over-emphasized that there is an urgent need for health care provision in Ghana and the rest of Africa. For that reason, the Diaspora and other foreign individuals, nations and organizations are encouraged to help in the provision of health care in the developing world.
Some of the areas in which the Diaspora could provide support are the following:
– Provision of medical professionals
– Provision of technology
– Provision of financial support
– Provision of research and training
– Provision of infrastructural development and master plan
– Partnering with the developing country to engage in health related developmental activities.
The above-mentioned supports are what the Korle-Bu Neuroscience project seeks and continues to provide for Ghana and other African countries.
Being part of the Korle-Bu Neuroscience project and currently the Vice President of the project and the President of Excellence in Africa Neuroscience and Health — Canada has been a personal dream come true. Thanks to Marjorie Ratel for such a vision and a mission.
Since leaving Ghana in 1994 to study accountancy and with the commencement of my employment with The University of British Columbia as an Administrator at Vancouver General Hospital in October 2002, I have been searching for a way that I could give back to Africa and better utilize the knowledge I have acquired in health care, financial reporting and administration. After a casual invitation by one of our founding members, Dr. Felix Durity, who is a renowned and retired Neurosurgeon, I joined the project in 2003 as the Chair of Finance; and in 2009, during a stay in Ghana for a year, I became the Canada/Ghana liaison. I took on the role as the Vice President of the project after my return to Canada in July 2009 and the President of Excellence in Africa Neuroscience and Health — Canada.
Excellence in Africa is the operating arm of the project and has been designated to use the funds received from the Korle-Bu Foundation to help with the provision of the health care infrastructure, medical missions, and equipment in Ghana and its sub-region.
My role as the Chair of Finance for five years involved the accurate periodic banking of donations and other receipts, recording of our revenues and expenditures in our financial system, issuing of tax receipts and thank you letters to donors, chairing the finance subcommittee, advising the Executive Board on financial matters, working with our internal auditor to audit the books, presenting our financial report at our Annual General Meetings and liaising with our legal advisory to file our financial report with Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency. These responsibilities took a lot of my time and effort but were very rewarding — to see the organization moving from strength to strength and achieving some major successes, which Ms. Marjorie Ratel has shared in her presentation.
There have also been other non-financial duties such as loading container shipments to Ghana and Nigeria, having garage sales and making presentations in Toronto and Regina to create awareness of the project among the Diasporas.
I must say that it has been a challenging experience to raise funds, but it is also encouraging to see committed executives and other members helping out and sacrificing their time and money to make a difference in the developing world.
My passion to join the project stems from the following reasons:
1. To contribute to the health care delivery in Ghana and other African countries — I was fortunate to attain my first degree in business administration in Ghana on a scholarship, which I believe influenced my professional studies and an MBA program at McGill University. I thought the country had invested in my development and hence it was time for me to give back.
2. Inspiring the youth — If there are specialist doctors and researchers in neuroscience, I strongly believe that the youth will be greatly inspired and motivated to work hard in order to attain such an ambition.
3. Halt the brain drain — Nurses, doctors, pharmacists and other health care professionals and providers have moved to the developed nations for greener pastures. A centre of excellence will help to halt or reduce such a drain of human capital and the talents and knowledge will be retained in the country.
4. Economic benefits — The few Ghanaians who can afford health care in the developed world spend the limited foreign earnings abroad, rather than spending it in the country where it could contribute to the Gross Domestic Product of the nation.
5. Creation of employment — Retention of trained professionals and employment opportunities will attract health care professionals from other countries.
Challenges in Ghana:
– One of such challenges is the lack of finances due to low salary and income. This potentially reduces the chances of financial support from individuals in the country.
– Bureaucracy presents a frequent challenge in Ghana and may result in the frustration of many people who are willing to help the country.
– Lack of biomedical engineers to repair the equipment. This is another challenge and the Foundation is raising funds to send a biomedical engineer to Ghana this year to help repair the equipment and also to train other people to be able to help.
I would like to conclude my presentation by stressing the fact that developing countries need help to find their feet and to grow. Technologically, we are behind and will probably not catch up for decades, but we need help in teaching and training professionals and technical support staff. This needs to be continuous and ongoing to build the confidence and performance of those in the developing nations. Capacity building would make us less dependent and then we could turn our knowledge inwards to research the conditions and solutions that are relevant to us. When we are able to function effectively in our societies, there will be fewer tendencies for people to abandon their posts and constitute economic refugees. We need corporate technical support for basic technologies that can survive in harsh, low resource-driven societies.
My plan is to move to Ghana permanently in December this year. I believe this is a good opportunity to continue the excellent partnering work done by the Korle-Bu Neuroscience Foundation. With a possible new position as the Ghana/Canada liaison, I hope to develop this relationship and partnership further; and most importantly, to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and health care delivery in Ghana.