By Amos Safo
Recently, I watched a video on the arrival of Ghanaian nurses in the Caribbean country of Barbados to practice their profession. This follows a bilateral agreement between the Government of Ghana and the Government of Barbados for Ghana to supply nurses to boost the health sector of the Caribbean country. According to the video a total of 122 nurses and midwives have made it to Barbados. The nurses are expected to serve in Barbados for 2 years. I have gathered that other Caribbean countries may follow the initiative of Barbados in obtaining nurses and other paramedics from Ghana, all things being equal.
This positive development is one piece of good news for Ghana amid agonizing economic difficulties that have seen fuel prices skyrocketing and the cedi facing its worse depreciate in recent memory. The difficulties are partly blamed on the COVID 19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia invasion of Ukraine, with its impact of the global economy, including Ghana’s. The other reason our economy is struggling is structural weakness that has consigned Ghana to a net importer of almost everything, hence the pressure on the cedi.
The good news on the export of Ghanaian nurses is based on my assertion that currently Ghana’s economy is undergoing fiscal challenges, especially the rapid depreciation of the cedi and the attendant inflation that has seen prices of foods and other commodities soaring uncontrollably. While the export of nurses, is job creating opportunity for the teeming unemployed nurses, the policy has the potential of generating foreign revenue in dollars by way of taxes and remittances for the economy, which is currently starved of dollars.
A spokesman of the Ministry of Health said the nurses cover a range of specialties like accident, emergency, paediatrics, and ophthalmology. Out of the 122 nurses, 56 are to work at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, while 66 are expected to join other areas like psychiatry and the polyclinic system. The Barbados Ministry of Health spokeswoman explained that the Ghanaian nurses arrived at the time the Caribbean country was in dire need of health specialists to fill gaps and address the nursing shortage. “Countries like Ghana are producing excellent nurses for the global market”, she pointed out.
The Ghanaian spokesman for the health training institutions buttressed that Ghana is currently training nurses and doctors at a phenomenal rate, but in accordance with international standards. Annually Ghana trains over 20,000 nurses, all of whom cannot be gainfully employed in Ghana. This means Ghana is producing nurses and other specialists far and above the national requirement, hence the need for exporting these valuable human resources. “We need to support other countries and the Barbados Government is the first to sign a bilateral agreement for the export of nurses” the spokesman said.
Exodus of doctors
Previously other western countries like the UK, USA and Canada used unorthodox means to entice Ghanaian health experts to their countries without the benefits accruing to the taxpayer, on whose sweat they were trained. There is an estimated 3,395 doctors of Ghanaian origin working in the United Kingdom alone as of 2021.
In 2021 a Ghanaian medical doctor based in the United States, Dr Michael Obeng revealed that there are more Ghanaian physicians in New York City in America than there are in Ghana. According to him, medical practitioners feel comfortable working abroad because they receive better care and respect for their work than they do in Ghana. The main reason for the mass exodus of Ghanaian according to the Ghanaian surgeon is that Ghanaian doctors are not receiving better incentives. “We need to take care of our doctors, so they don’t leave. We don’t take healthcare seriously”, he said on a radio discussion in 2021. Dr Obeng said even though some improvements have been made in the healthcare system 30 years after he left Ghana, there is much to be done to make Ghana’s healthcare system considered one of the best.
Much as I agree that the working conditions of Ghana’s health professionals need to improve, I disagree with doctor Obeng’s justification for the exodus of Ghanaian trained doctors. It is unfair and unpatriotic the doctors to seek greener pastures soon after their training on the sweat of Ghanaian taxpayer. Why should rich western countries benefit from the toil of the taxpayer with any form of returns.
It is expected that the 122 nurses who have the opportunity to serve in Barbados will uphold the highest standard professionalism and work ethics, devoid of the arrogance and lack of empathy associated with some nurses. Nurses in both private and public hospitals have gained notoriety for insensitivity and poor service to their patients. The 122 are the ambassadors and torchbearers of the nursing profession in Ghana; so any positive or negative attitude they portray in Barbados can make or unmake future agreements between Ghana and other countries for the supply of health specialists.
It is increasingly becoming clear that Ghana has competitive advantage in training health personnel, judging from the high demand for our health experts in Europe and America. The problem is our usual failure to take advantage of our competitiveness in many fields. Rather than broadening the scope and creating the enabling environment for more professionals to be trained we have made admission to nursing and medical schools a privilege, with the usual protocol list dominating admission. However, the impression one gets is that one cannot become a doctor unless there is a trace of medical practitioners in one’s family. This attitude continues to widen the social and economic gaps in Ghana.
Perhaps, with the huge investments in free Senior High School (SHS), Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) it is a matter of time for Ghana to become highly competitive in human resource and manpower development for local use and export. All said, the economy may be under pressure for now, but if the country overcomes the current economic hardship Ghana focus should be improving our competitiveness, and certainly education and manpower development is a sector to invest in.