I passed by those ambulances on a daily basis. Lined up in neat rows on the parking lots of power. The controversy swirled around them. The need beckoned. The death data swelled. And still they sat, waiting for the word to be given. The dust accumulated. The rust must have started already, the salt breeze wafting off the coast just miles away.
So a few weeks ago, I was in traffic, trying to make my way across lanes without being hit by a motorbike, when I heard the siren. There was an ambulance zooming right down at me, trying to keep up with a convoy, that must have been on the way to be commissioned. After all the time, and all the dust, and all the rust, parked in front of the corridors of power, here they were piercing the morning air with impotent siren wails. The lights were flashing, but there was no sick person inside. And here was the driver insisting on right of way. I made sure I was really cautious as I changed lanes. I was not going to be pushed off the road by an ambulance which had waited months to become functional. I was not going to be supplanted by an instrument of life, that had sat unrelated to anything health, in a Political Building Parking Lot, whilst the death statistics continued to accumulate.
It was almost a nauseous feeling. The fidelity of the work I do being determined by the decisions of the people who have never felt a pulse disappearing, listened to breath abating, watched life dissipating, The fact that their voices were louder than mine… so far. The fact that just like the sound sirens wiped canceled out the horns of the morning rush, the voices of the medics did not count… when it came to releasing the ambulances for use. And maybe it is not just that the voices of the politicians are loud, but that the health-workers have not persisted loudly enough.
Maybe it is also because the health workers are so burdened with the people who need their help, that they have lost some of the energy that drives that voice. Maybe we have not pushed hard enough, maybe we have not lobbied enough. may be the health needs of the people are not as emergent as the democratic needs of the people. I am trying hard here. What causes a country to keep ambulances parked in a carpark for months, waiting for a commissioning?
And what happened to all the entrepreneurs in the country. How did a whole country of survivors, hard workers, watch for the need for ambulances to grow to the point where only a 100 odd ambulances served a country of 30 million people? Why do hearse drivers make much more business, than ambulance drivers? Why is it much easier to get a loan to organize a funeral, than to start an ambulance company which will provide a private, affordable service, that goes to homes and accident sites, and sends people to hospital for treatment?
Why is it a non-health sector office that advertises its name on the ambulances? Why have we accepted as a country that ambulances do not go home to pick ill people up? Why is it a strange thing for ambulances to go to a road traffic accident site? Is it just like we have accepted that motorbike riders do not really need crash helmets, or that they do not need to stop at traffic lights?
What more whittling away of our human psyche will we accept? How many more deaths do we want to tolerate as a country?
Finally the ambulances have been distributed. The framework is in place, or is it? For maintaining them, restocking them and ensuring that the significant investment that they are will not be put to waste. And as the sirens blow, teams will follow. Life saving teams who will transcend the political workings that hamstrung their function for months. Teams that will be complemented by private institutions buoyed by the value building capacity hitherto limited to funeral planning. We have done it with banks, savings and loans companies, telecommunication, media houses.
Surely we must be able to do it with health.
Dr. Teddy Totimeh is a Pediatric Neurosurgeon who practices at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital in Ghana
Feature photo: “Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo meets President Cyril Ramaphosa’s delegation at the Jubilee House in Accra” by GovernmentZA is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0