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19.08.2004 Health

Exodus of health professionals

By Graphic

A lot of concern has been expressed about the possible effects the exodus of health professionals could have on the success of the National Health Insurance Scheme, touted as the best remedy for Ghana's ailing health sector.

The National Health Insurance Scheme, expected to replace the cash and carry system and lead to enhanced health delivery for Ghanaians, also frees the individual from shouldering alone the huge financial burden of healthcare.

While government figures that the scheme will cater for the health needs of the poor and vulnerable in the Ghanaian society,the continued exodus of medical professionals could make that dream a mirage.

Even though diverse views have been expressed on the situation and various approaches suggested, Defence Minister, Dr Kwame Addo Kufuor, himself a medical doctor, hit the bull's eye again when he told fellow medical practitioners at the 26th Annual General Congress of the Society of Private Medical and Dental Pratictioners held in Kumasi recently that the time had come to agree on practical solutions to halt the exodus.

Dr Addo Kufuor's suggestion comes at a critical stage when the government's numerous interventions seem incapable of addressing the exodus entirely.In an attempt to curb the practice and persuade health professionals to stay, the government has introduced a number of incentive initiatives for the health sector.

The establishment of the postgraduate College of Surgeons and Physicians, the payment of additional duty allowances to health workers and the setting up of a $5 million revolving fund for the purchase of vehicles for health professionals are all geared towards that goal.

Additionally, the government has considered the possibility of instituting tax break regimes for health professionals who opt to work in deprived areas and special mortgage loan schemes for health professionals.

The various initiatives the government has thought out are refreshing but the alarming statistics on the exodus still leave a sour taste in the mouths of even the most avowed optimist.

The World Bank Report on the Ghana Health Sector launched in January 2003, coupled with information made available from the Ministry of Health provides serious food for thought.

On projection, the report warns that if the exodus remains unchecked at the current rates, 408 doctors trained at a cost of $ 24.4 million, 1,883 general nurses trained at a cost of $7.9 million and 591 pharmacists trained at a cost of $19.98 million would have left for other countries.

This state of affairs leaves the government with no other option than to act decisively to tackle the exodus.

But as Dr Addo Kufuor reiterates, the exodus of health professionals from the country is a very touchy issue because the rights of the health professional as a free citizen clash with his obligation to the society which paid for his training in a delicate and complex matrix.

Indeed, the medical practitioner who has played his role as Defence Minister with admirable finesse recognises the fact that professionals are entitled to choose their employers in an environment which promotes equal opportunities but he also appeals to the patriotic senses of his colleagues to heed the national call.

Dr Addo Kufuor's call for a debate on whether health professionals should be bonded or whether they should pay some form of monetary compensation to the state if they decide to leave is also likely to bring up some stimulating thoughts.

Whichever way one looks at it, it is obvious that the government would have to act fast on the issue of the exodus of health professionals, if it intends to accomplish its most cherished objective of providing quality healthcare for the Ghanaian populace.

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