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African viewpoint: Revealing all

image captionJohn 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.

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.

image captionMany 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.

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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