Reality Check: Better pay helps, but more health workers needed in Ghana
During the first meeting with countries and partners on Good Practices for Country Coordination and Facilitation (CCF) held in Accra, Ghana, from 26-29 October 2009, Alliance Communications paid a visit to the La General Hospital in Accra and discussed with health workers about their daily challenges.
Every morning, Selestina Martinson, 63, a principal nurse in the Out-Patient Department of the Accra's La General Hospital starts the day with prayers along with 200 anxious patients waiting to receive health care. "It's beautiful, you should have seen", told me Selestina about the beginning of each day in this crowded district clinic. After the prayers at 8 o'clock sharp, Selestina gives a talk on one of the common health problems. "We talk about malaria, hypertension or alcoholism, which are the reasons why so many of them are here at the clinic."
As in many developing countries, Ghana is facing with a critical shortage of health workers: not enough number of health workers produced by medical schools, and in addition, a significant portion - up to 30% of trained physicians in Ghana - was estimated to be leaving the country to find better pays, according to the World Health Report 2006. A few like Selestina Martinson were brought back from retirement, as part of the Government's drastic measures to address the capacity crisis.
In recent years, more health workers are staying on the job and more being recruited, partly due to the increase of salaries. "We are in a much better place, to compare with a few years ago," shared health workers at the La General Hospital. Since 2005, the Government has increased health worker salaries 3-6 times. "Doctors who used to be paid 300GH¢* are now paid in average 1 000GH¢, and nurses' salaries increased from 100GH¢ to 600GH¢."
*1 GH¢ Ghana Cedi = 0.98$US Dollar
The La General Hospital serves the population of over 200 000 and employs over 200 health workers - doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical assistants, prescribers and paramedicals. The clinic has a capacity of 117 beds. Majority of the patients are mothers and children, and most common health ailments are malaria, pregnancy-related causes, acute respiratory infections and hypertension.
Dr Dorcas O. Anfu, Acting Medical Superintendent of the La General Hospital is particularly proud of the new national health insurance scheme. "This is the best thing that has happened to Ghanaians," she said. "It is about 20GH¢ for the whole year, 4GH¢ for registration, and all people have access to any type of medical care needed: hospital admission, blood transfusion, lab tests and medicines. Ordinary people are very happy, which makes us - health workers very happy."
In a maternity ward room, 10 mothers and 12 babies are resting after delivery. Back at the Out-Patient Department, Selestina Martinson is checking in her last few patients. "The Hospital is very heavy in the mornings, especially on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays," says Selestina during her short conversation with us between patient check-ups. Her job is "emergency aid, with all around nursing care," she said, but if we count all other care she provides - starting from calming prayers to counselling about hypertension - the job appears to be of several-fold. Despite the huge loads of work, talent and dedication demonstrated by the health workers here at the La General Hospital were most impressive signs of hope.
(All photos by © Louis Gudjoe Terpetu, with story developed by Tunga Namjilsuren)