By Sundong Abdul-Korah [email protected] Pictures Courtesy: Dennis Adjei
It is widely held that Europe's remarkable development in the 19th century and more recently in the developing countries of Asia and parts of Latin America could not have been without significant improvements in the health status of citizens. Thus efficient and effective healthcare systems are a precondition for healthier lives and higher productivity. This perfect positive correlation between the health of nationals and productivity did not elude Bishop Anthony Konnings of Keta Diocese and his Dutch Missionaries who settled in Dzodze to evangelize.
With a very humble beginning in 1960, the St. Anthony's Hospital has had remarkably admirable growth with various departments and specialized services sprouting each passing year. It now has fifteen departments and the collaborative and integral functions of these departments have brought remarkably efficient services to clients The Queen of Dzodze, Mama Nyagadzi, recalls the terrible afflictions posed by yaws, Child and Infant as well as Maternal Mortalities prior to the establishment of the hospital. No wonder the people of Dzodze and other beneficiary communities are forever grateful to God for such a wonderful gift.
One of the pillars of the hospital is the Preventive Health Care Department (PHC). Here nurses engage in maternal and child health education and other reproductive child health related activities and programmes. Child Welfare Clinics and immunization campaigns as well as training programmes on healthy diet and hygienic practices are routinely conducted. Its outreach programme ensures regular visits to neighbouring villages to provide basic healthcare services to mothers and sick people who find it difficult to come to the hospital. Though Ahiavor Grace gave birth at home she is one of the numerous beneficiaries of the PHC and now knows how to keep her child healthy.
Significance and Achievements
But how significant is St Anthony's Hospital to the people of Dzodze? The administrator of the hospital, Christian Akoto-Brown, says the name St Anthony's Hospital is almost synonymous with the word Dzodze and every citizen takes pride in it. The hospital can now pride itself with some significant achievements. These include the acquisition of an ambulance; the renovation and expansion of the Out-Patient-Department to accommodate the exponential swell in OPD attendance as a result of a dramatic increase in patients' attendance due to the introduction of the National Health Insurance; collaboration with foreign medical experts who visit the hospital to provide specialized services which are difficult to access in Ghana, or worst still not even available, provision of 24-hour quality service, and ensuring 98 percent drug availability at all times.
The establishment of a fuel dump and the sustenance of the foreign Mission's visit to the hospital are major assets.
This year registered yet another significant achievement: -- the establishment of an oxygen plant which has the capacity to serve other hospitals within the region. As a result of these and similar initiatives, multitudes of patients have received treatment and medals pinned on St Anthony's hospital.
Indeed, St Anthony's Hospital is the Heart of Dzodze, and will continue to play a significant role in the lives of the people of Dzodze and beyond.
Without any controversy, St Anthony's hospital could not have gained this remarkable feat without the specialized services it renders. For over two decades a number of foreign missions have been rendering various services to the hospital.
Currently orthopaedic surgeons from Holland (Orion) and urologists from Germany and Austria that is, Doctors for Africa, have been visiting the hospital four times a year. Other experts such as Plastic Surgeons from Holland called Interplast Holland and General Surgeons from Holland with interventions in hydrocoelle and thyroids pay regular visits.
Following the terrible motor accident in 2006 in which leading urologists of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital lost their lives, a group of urologists from Germany formed Doctors for Africa (a voluntary medical mission) and have been visiting a number of mission hospitals in Ghana especially St. Anthony's Hospital. “We heard of a bad accident… and you had only a few urologists and three or four are lacking… so we saw the need for urologists,” Dr Gerd Engel explained their mission. Having thorough knowledge of the state and needs of the hospital, these experts usually come with large overflowing baskets: Dr Engel said before their arrival, a forty-footer container with various medical equipment such as Operation Tables and Theatre lamps, Urological and Medical Engineer installing an X-Ray Machine Surgical instruments, X-ray machine, Ultra-sound machine, Catheters, beds etc had already been shipped.
Dr Paul Rompa explained that he took up the mantle in 1994 after his Dutch colleague, Dr Rart, twice caught malaria whilst in Ghana and his children didn't allow him to continue. With the support of a mission organization he rebuilt the theatre to its modern status and took up the mantle to visit Dzodze hospital twice a year to operate on post-polio children free of charge.
During each visit to the hospital, hundreds of patients receive surgical interventions. “In a week we operate about 30-35 patients many of them on both legs/limbs... so about 75 operations,” Dr Rompa disclosed. By Dr Engel's estimation, over 700 urological operations have been done. One beneficiary who suffered from prostrate cancer said he couldn't afford the treatment at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, but was relieved within a short period thanks to the German experts. But for these specialized surgical interventions the plight of many inhabitants would have been nothing but misery. Through the benevolence of Dr Rompa and his team, many children and youngsters are now relieved of their congenital and post-polio deformities. And such outstanding specialized services have caught the attention of our neighbours including Togolese, Beniniores and Nigerians. Asked what keeps them going, these experts expressed; “Joy in seeing their patients experiencing new, comfortable lives”. Upon seeing one of his patients with a baby, who could only crawl and was therefore neglected in the village prior to the operation, Dr Rompa teased: “How reward for a simple carpenter…just straighten legs and now see how you have changed this creature to a beautiful, proud mother with a baby… that keeps me going.”
But in an era of widespread and regular immunization particularly against the six childhood killer diseases, it is inconceivable that some children are still suffering from polio-related deformities. Has something gone terribly wrong? Global-trotting Dr Rompa underscores the need for medical staff to ensure that the cold chain of vaccines is not broken: “For a long time I did not see any fresh case of polio; now we a see a lot of cases again. Vaccinations are so important and the mothers are willing to come. But due to irregularities in the course of transporting vaccines from the factory to various destinations some vaccines get spoiled, but used on children. Our medical responsibility is to get the vaccine cool from the factory into the syringe… so guiding the cold chain is one of our main responsibilities as doctors and nurses,” he reemphasized
According to the foreign experts, one of the major objectives of the missions is transfer of knowledge. “Though we're operating to help the Ghanaian people, we want to give education to the Ghanaian nurses and doctors as well,” says Dr Engel. Dr Rompa appreciates the fact that there're so many fantastic Ghanaian doctors who can do the same. “So my aim is to shed the load of the operations and slowly hand over my skills.” Inspired by his skills, tenacity and love, Dr. Joseph Kwame Kopissah, after assisting him for a few years, got trained as an orthorpaedic surgeon at the Korle Bu teaching hospital and has since returned to St Anthony's hospital to stay. “This is marvelous!” exclaims Dr Rompa. Young Dr Obeng-Nsiah agrees that through this partnership the foreign experts are imparting a lot of knowledge to them.
Management Style & Funding
But what accounts for these significant achievements? The uniqueness and recognition of St Anthony's Hospital is simply rooted in efficient and proactive managerial practices backed by total staff commitment. Important personalities such as the Chief, the Queen and the Secretary to the Market Women's Association, all of Dzodze constitute the advisory committee which gives feedback on what the community, opinion leaders and individuals feel about the hospital and ways of improving its services. The Management Team also holds regular meetings where important matters are deliberated upon and useful decisions taken.
Other collaborators and stakeholders include the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ghana Health Services (GHS), the Regional and District Directorates of Health, the office of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), the Christian Health Association of Ghana (CHAG), and the Department of Health (DOH) of the National Catholic Secretariat (NCS).
A number of strategies and incentives have also been initiated to motivate staff. The Annual Best Worker Award and regular professional training of staff have unleashed their capabilities and output. Foreign experts unanimously admit that the management style has persistently attracted then to the hospital.
It is indeed prudent to ask what funds have enabled management to undertake these bold projects. “Financially we depend basically on Internally Generated Funds (IGF)… in fact that forms 90 percent of the income of this hospital. The rest comes from our foreign partners,” Akoto-Brown admits.
Some Worrying Trends
Patients waiting inside the OPD Block
The people of Dzodze are indeed privileged to have such rare healthcare facilities but doctors caution that there is still cause to worry. Apart from tropical diseases, Dr Gyau Gyamena observes that there is increasing number of road accidents as a result of the usage of motorbikes for commercial purposes.
The other trend is stroke, which means that hypertension is endemic but is either not controlled or poorly controlled. Dr Yaw Obeng-Nsiah advises that those who feel sick should report early for treatment.
Participation of the Church
The presence and active participation of Rev. Sisters has a tremendous soothing effect on patients. Rev Sister Mary Consolata says besides working in various departments, they bring the word of God's healing to patients. Their presence has further added fresh impetus to sound managerial practices. By planting them in departments such as accounts, procurement and stores, financial malpractices have declined considerable, and this has enhanced the quality of services to patients.
Awards and Teaching Services
Humble lives which strive along decent, productive paths do not often sink into the silent sleep of the tomb. So is St Anthony's hospital, which, with 50 silver feathers now on its wings, is flying in higher-horizon. Having emerged as the best managed National Catholic Health Service Hospital and again as the best managed hospital in the Volta Region for both Public and Church Hospitals according to an assessment report of the Health Administration and Support Services of Ministry of Health for the year 2009-- the Bishop of Keta-Akatsi Diocese, Most Rev Anthony K Adanuty, congratulated the entire staff and reminded them that such a tribute given to the hospital through these awards naturally flows to all members of staff because alone management couldn't have achieved such laurels. He then launched the 50th anniversary of the Hospital.
The awards won by the hospital are not just purely on account of the services it renders to patients; St Anthony's hospital is also a teaching institution where student nurses and para-medics from various health institutions within and outside the Volta Region come for internship. Students from the Ho Nurses Training College were full of praises for having had the opportunity to do three weeks clinical training at the Hospital. “We've learnt a lot…therapeutic communication, injection and so many other things; we even feel we're nurses already…sure we'll come next time round,” Tsibi Japhet remarked.
Major Challenges and Appeals
Life has never been smooth-sailing anywhere and all the times. In spite of His great teachings, healings and miracles, Christ too was put to the test. So, despite her achievements, St Anthony's Hospital is also grappling with numerous challenges some critical and requires urgent attention. Within the last three years alone, as many as 30 members of staff, mostly nurses, went on retirement. Unfortunately, some are due shortly, yet many health workers have refused postings to the hospital. To ensure regular and sufficient staff strength, management finds it prudent to establish a Nursing Training School, but lacks the necessary resources.
Indeed one major problem is getting financial resources to support the activities of the hospital because the hospital depends mostly on internally generated funds, which cannot support capital infrastructure. Unfortunately, a greater portion of the hospital was built with sandcrete. The walls are now weak and require major works.
Management is also suffering from late reimbursement from the NHIS thus making it difficult to obtain drugs and to meet other operational obligations..
Notwithstanding the efforts of young doctors serving in rural communities, they often find it difficult to go for postgraduate studies. “If you're leaving for further studies and knowing that it will be difficult for another colleague to come…it becomes a difficult… tough decision to take for which reason some of us sacrifice to save lives,” Dr Gyamena laments.
Because of lack of modern equipment/machines, staff at the orthopaedic department uses a lot of manpower to treat patients. Special refrigerators are also required at the pharmacy to keep some drugs at specific temperatures to ensure efficacy. It is upon these and similar difficulties and corresponding initiatives that the administrator is soliciting support from the well-to-do in the community, from central government, civil society organizations and philanthropists.
Management is appealing to government not to neglect doctors working in rural communities especially when it comes to the award of scholarships, to make solvent the beautiful NHIS and also assist them with infrastructure for efficient operations. “When there's something to give to hospitals, they [Government] shouldn't neglect the mission hospitals especially the Catholic Hospitals because we're doing much. They're government hospitals around but the people prefer here because we treat our patients better,” Rev Sister Mary Consolata admonishes.
Foreign assistance is certainly vital, but central government's interventions and local initiatives are even more admirable and rewarding. It's for this reason that the Queen Mother of Dzodze is appealing to natives to donate towards the hospital's 50th anniversary. It is hoped that an appreciable community donation towards the erection of the jubilee house will attract further foreign assistance. The secretary of the Market women Association and member of the hospital's advisory committee, Selina Vidza, says they're planning to renovate and adopt the children's ward as part of their contribution. In an interview, the Municipal Chief Executive, Claver Kofi Lawson, also declared support for all Health Centres within the district especially the referral hospital—St Anthony's Hospital.
Appreciation and Conclusion
As orphans hasten to thank their benefactors, the management of St Anthony's hospital will neither hesitate nor delay in thanking all stakeholders: “We appreciate the works of the foreign missions… Dr Rompa, Dr Engel, Prof. Schindler, Prof. Jellinghaus, Dr Hermans, we thank the government for paying our salaries, we thank the community; the chief and Queen of Dzodze, we thank the staff for working out their hearts, we thank the hierarchy of the church and the Bishop for deciding to put the hospital here, and all those who have made our stay here a success,” Akoto-Brown concludes.
Sure, St Anthony's still lives, and in Dzodze!. Are all stakeholders ready to consolidate the gains made by the hospital as it turns fifty?