NEWS COMMENTARY ON BRAIN DRAIN IN GHANA’S HEALTH SECTOR
Granted that all of us are doing well, it should be a reflection of a sound, secure and healthy environment we are enjoying. The opposite, equally holds true to a bad situation because we have not invested in what we should prioritize as a country with a future that must be protected. Ghanaians are yet to come to the understanding why a huge number of health professionals resign, refuse postings and continue to leave the shores of our country in search of better conditions of service and conducive working environment, especially to the western world.
The Florence Nightingale Oath and Code of Ethics and the Doctors’ Hippocratic Oath today can be said to be secondary in the consideration of things by Health Professionals in the face of hardship. We urgently need a national conversation on HEALTH as a national security issue and challenge. This is very urgent because, “If we focus on what we have left behind, we will never be able to see what lies ahead.”
There is no substitute to health and it cannot be gambled with.
In the midst of all of these, is the million dollar question as to why there seems to be some lukewarm and lackadaisical attitude and approach in dealing with issues related to the health sector. So much have been written, raised, postulated and debated about our sinking and failing health sector. We should be warned, however, that, this life is but once, until God decides. Government and all stakeholders must sit-up and not pretend all is well. What is it that is attracting our health workers to seek greener pastures elsewhere, that we cannot provide them here? If others can build their system to attract others, it then means we are failing and not fixing things right. It is an acknowledged fact, that, among other things, it is also the sterling qualities of Ghanaian health professionals that is attracting recruiting agencies in the western world.
This mass departures will in the near future spell doom for our health delivery system which is caving into consequential workforce shortages. Already many health facilities built or under construction throughout the country are either lying fallow for lack of staff or resources or projects abandoned for political reasons. All these are to the detriment of the people whose scarce resources and taxes began the projects.
It all started with the non recruitment of trained health personnel who are hanging at home several years after graduation. We witnessed the numerous demonstrations and what can be described as cosmetic approaches to a resolution of the problems. We should also not forget reasons that were adduced to the non-recruitment of these health personnel, chief of these often repeated reasons being – clearance from the Ministry of Finance for recruitment or posting. How many of these professionals were recruited into the health system? Trained labour will always gravitate to where there is opportunity and hope.
Have Ghanaians further sought to know why in 2015, there was a ban on the exodus of Ghanaian health professionals? The clamour to seek opportunities elsewhere became unrelenting and daring, even already employed personnel disenchanted with poor working conditions began departing the shores of the country in their hundreds for better conditions elsewhere.
Though such an exodus is not a recent phenomenon, the volume of departure is what is problematic and must evoke a national security concern. Training and retention of our own human resource should be what we as Ghanaians should extol; Unfortunately, it is not the case in most sectors of the Ghanaian economy where human capital distribution is a problem, and the Health Sector is no exception. As a country, should we not be worried about that, the common mantra today is that Ghanaian nurses are leaving in droves for greener pastures because the Ghanaian system doesn’t want them. How did we get here as a people? Even locally, many are the professionals who refuse or vacate postings to certain parts of the country for whatever reasons we could conjecture. No matter the reasons, can we in the name of patriotism, say we are ready to seek greener pastures anywhere in the world, but unwilling to accept postings to some areas or regions of the country? Ghanaians must re-examine our attitudes, cultures, traditions and capacities.
Just a few statistics, nearly 150 health professionals at the Pantang Psychiatric hospital left the shores of Ghana for jobs outside in the last 6 years. A further 3,000 nurses and midwives also called it quit and left the shores of Ghana. If this drain is not already being felt, then it means the few holding the fort are overworking themselves to keep the system running?
This obvious shortage of health professionals we are witnessing will affect health care delivery. A compounded situation is blowing before our eyes, which is accentuated by low staff morale, low salaries and remunerations, poor distribution and serious workforce shortages.
Today, a lot more are leaving Ghana to the US and the UK for good salaries and good employment contracts. There are reports that in March, this year, the situation worsened when 11 experienced health professionals, 10 nurses and a Doctor resigned their post.
Those who stayed back constantly complained or grieved over dissatisfaction in their working conditions. There is a growing yawning labour gap of more than a hundred thousand health workers that must be filled if our health system should stay afloat. This shortage of health personnel is projected to persist until 2035, if no action is taken. Let us pause to think of the havoc COVID-19 pandemic caused on shortage of health workers? Shortage of nurses is a global issue. Ghana has scaled up the training of nurses and midwives, only to sit unconcerned to allow them to emigrate.
Ghanaians must know that the quality of work-life turnover is as a result of inadequate nursing workforce, stressful work demands and schedules and limited material resources. Ghanaian health professionals are revered outside because they exhibit sterling qualities, hard work and skills.
Why can’t we celebrate these locally? Also in terms of training we have trained enough health professionals, such that we should not lack. Because common sense teaches that, abundance is better than scarcity.
The WHO has already revealed and warned that globally, Ghana is among 55 countries losing health workers due to International migration.
Maybe the UK blacklist of countries, including Ghana that should not be a source of recruitment of health personnel into the United Kingdom must be good riddance, but can migration be stopped when the push and pull factors are constant? The wake up call is now, this continuous brain drain and critical labour drift out of the country should be a national concern and heads must begin brainstorming.
Written By: Jonas Anbazu, Former Assistant Registrar, UDS, WA.