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24.08.2005 Health

Ankaful in Distress

Ghanaian Chronicle

The Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital, one of the country's important health institutions, faces an eminent professional brain drain if steps are not taken to make working conditions better.

Notwithstanding efforts by government to make working in remote and deprived areas better through incentives, other infrastructure and logistic problems affect smooth work.

A visit by The Chronicle witnessed a very bad and deplorable main road leading to the hospital as well as two other important institutions, namely the Ankaful Leprosarium and Prisons.

The nature of the road seems to have echoed the notion that people there are considered outcasts of society, therefore not even several letters written to the regional minister elicited any a positive result.

The administrator of the hospital, Mr. Kwadwo Boakye, who disclosed this in an interview with the paper said commercial vehicles refuse to ply the road because of its poor nature. "Our children find it very difficult to go to school. We have no option than to squeeze fuel for one of our vehicles to serve that purpose in the mornings. If the road is repaired, commercial drivers would resume their services and fuel could be saved for some other purpose."

Some health workers interviewed by The Chronicle disclosed that they go to town once in a month and that is only when it is time to collect their salaries from the bank. "Commercial vehicles are not frequently seen, they only come here when they are hired from town, infact the road is too bad," one lamented.

Touching on other problems, Mr. Boakye said the hospital is faced with a more or less permanent water problem as some parts of the hospital have not had water for almost 8 months now. He said the problem was so serious especially in the wards, as there was often no water to clean up inmates.

Management had tried all efforts at the Ghana Water Company Limited but the anomaly was explained off by a general water problem in the whole of Cape Coast. "The company says it is even doing its best giving some parts of the hospital water sometimes in the night," he said.

"We are trying to solve the problem in a way but we are faced with hitches" he said.

Water from 10 boreholes dug by the hospital authorities were found unwholesome upon laboratory tests. Management therefore installed 60 polytanks with the capacity of 8000 litres each, at vantage points around the hospital but showed disappointment, saying "we thought this could help but unfortunately, the water that comes through the pipes is even not enough for normal daily use; how much more for storage?"

He said commercial tanker services charged a whopping ¢500,000 per trip and therefore called on the government and other donor agencies to, as a matter of urgency, provide the hospital with a water tanker, as a medium to long term solution that could even serve the other institutions in the area.

Mr. Boakye revealed that the hospital did not have an ambulance and therefore had to resort to the use of vehicles not ideal for such purposes in conveying patients from the Out Patients Department to the wards, which are far apart.

In situations when the vehicles are on schedule elsewhere, the services of taxis are engaged. He said some of the taxi drivers were refusing to continue with this practice because most of the patients, especially the violent ones, ended up damaging their cars. One of the drivers said he had his seat covers all torn by a patient "I am only continuing this service on humanitarian grounds because I believe these people are also humans who need us to survive."

Touching on the issue of brain drain, Mr. Boakye said the hospital had the capacity for 150 nurses but had to contend with 40 who were overstretched because they hade to do a two-shift system which was almost 12 hours daily, but end up taking the same Extra Duty Allowances (EDA) with their colleagues who run a three-shift system of about 8 hours daily.

Calling on the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service to review the across-board EDA for health workers in respect to the shift system peculiar to each health institution, he said this might compel professionals to leave the remote and deprived areas to other institutions because the conditions of service everywhere were the same.

He said his administration was doing its best by practicing prudent financial management of its internally generated resources to embark on a series of facelift and incentive projects. "For instance, all wards and departments now have 24-hour internet connectivity" he said, and plans were underway to let staff enjoy Digital satellite television services to boost the performance of workers.

He however said, all these could be done but the main thrust of the issue of brain drain manifested in the pockets of professionals, "if the person does not find comfort in livelihood, these things cannot be tangible and he or she will be compelled to take decisions to seek better working conditions," he concluded.

Management needs logistics such as cross-country vehicles to embark on prevention and rehabilitation projects, he said, adding ,"we cannot be an adhoc institution only waiting for the mentally impaired; we have the responsibility of going to places to enlighten and educate people on the prevention and improvement of mental health."