African viewpoint: Revealing all

Former Ghanaian President John Kufuor adjusts his glasses during the ceremony marking Ghanaian first oil production in Takoradi on December 15, 2010 John Kufuor stood down as president in 2009 after serving two terms

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene - who was a minister in Ghana's former NPP government - broaches a subject normally kept under wraps: The illness of a public figure.

We are making progress in Ghana and you had better believe it.

The office of former President John Kufuor has issued a statement giving details about a medical procedure he had undergone.

A team of Ghanaian doctors conducted a surgical operation on Mr Kufuor's spine; the surgery was successful and he is recuperating.

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The president told us the almighty God was his doctor and threatened to 'out' some other people he said were ill”

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This might not be a big deal in some parts of the world and in others it might be the type of news item that is put in a little corner of the newspaper.

But for us this is earth-shattering news.

It provides evidence that attitudes are changing in Ghana.

A statement has been issued to say a public official, a former president no less, has a medical problem - and the skies have not fallen through on us.

Over here in Ghana this simply does not happen.

Myths broken

Chiefs, presidents, important people just do not get ill and when they do - God forbid - you never admit it or talk about it in public - never mind give details of the medical procedure carried out.

When he was serving as Ghana's president, a statement that Mr Kufuor was taking one day off to rest was greeted with such opprobrium that his staff did a lot of soul-searching.

Nkwanta, GHANA: A Ghanaian doctor prepares a patient for an operation 02 June 2005 at the Wa hospital, northern Ghana Many have faith in Ghanaian doctors - but not the hospitals.

There have been persistent rumours that the current President John Atta Mills is unwell; some claim he has cancer.

When the matter came up again at a press conference at the beginning of the year, his irritation was palpable.

The president told us the almighty God was his doctor and threatened to "out" some other people he said were ill - if people persisted in talking about him having medical issues.

By announcing details about his medical treatment, Mr Kufuor has broken many myths - and we shall forever be grateful to him.

Now important people in our society can be sick and admit as much without thinking that they are jeopardising their official positions.

But this announcement goes far beyond making it possible for important people to acknowledge their mortality.

Treatment abroad

Former President Kufuor was operated on by a team of Ghanaian doctors in a Ghanaian hospital.

For some people that is possibly the most significant part of the episode.

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Many Ghanaians should now have the courage to look at home for a solution to their ailments”

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Ghanaian officials go outside the country to have their ailments seen to.

This seems to be enshrined in their conditions of service - and we are not just talking here about politicians.

It is also judges, bankers, senior civil servants and university lecturers.

Political parties in opposition promise to stop the practice.

But once in power it only takes one of their number to be stricken down with a stroke - and all the best intentions are thrown overboard.

I think it is fair to say that most people here do have confidence in Ghanaian doctors but very few have confidence in the equipment, laboratories and setups in the public hospitals.

Those who have money - and those who can get the state to pay for them - make their way out of the country for the most routine medical procedures.

London is losing its attraction while South Africa and India are becoming the preferred destinations for Ghanaians who require medical treatment.

Thanks to Mr Kufuor many Ghanaians should now have the courage to look at home for a solution to their ailments.

Obviously it is not likely that the likes of me will be able to assemble the distinguished array of doctors that came together to perform the delicate surgery on the former president.

But it is certainly reassuring to know that not only do we have the talent and expertise right here at home - but also that they have been so publicly acknowledged.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    to @themailman Do you have any sense of humor? She is poking fun at some of things our Heads of State do which really are rooted in superstition. Why not get your own column and write about issues you think will serve Africans. Leave Ms Ohene to do what she does best. Make us smile about our idiosyncrasies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Elizabeth, while I respect your opinion and in-sight, I feel there are more important issues to write about with respect to Africa and issues covered. It doesn't serve anyone of us well, to continually discuss issues of little or trivial value to your readers. I don't know if you are the one that selects your own topic to write about or your editors, but please consider writing different issues

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Elizabeth, I think superstition may have a lot to do withy this attitude. We believe that death comes only when our enemies who are always trying to kill us finally succeed. Therefore, to publicly admit we are ill is to strengthen our enemy which might just hasten the process.

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    Comment number 7.

    In the modern time African medical practitioners have been making progress in the medical field but these progress are not given attention by foreign medias which most African still belief and have confidence in whatever news they said.We Africans simply do not want to accept the fact that our doctors are good even in the face of lack of equipment and because of this our govt neglects such areas

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Elizabeth, please educate us. Did former president Kufour inform Ghanaians of his medical problems and treatment recieved while he was president. ok, maybe he never fell sick in his 8yrs as president. I feel your article is lop sided. let wait for President Mills to complete his tenure maybe he will undergo a medical procedure and make it public then we would have a good comparison.


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