The first time I passed by Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital was on my second day in Kumasi. I remember being shocked by all the people who were lying on old mattresses or cardboard boxes in a large empty space near the emergency room. It was the last thing I expected, and I began wondering if they were patients waiting for care who didn’t fit inside. After asking people, I discovered that the mattresses can be rented out for family members of patients who do not live near the hospital but still want to look after their loved ones. That immediately warmed my heart, showing me once again how strong Ghanaian family values are as they put their lives on hold to watch after their relatives who are being treated in the hospital.
After shadowing at the hospital for 5 weeks, I have not only gained medical knowledge that I will be able to use in the future as a doctor, but I have also learned more about the Ghanaian health system in general. I still think my first week was the most surprising, I was placed in the red ward of the emergency room where only the most extreme cases are sent, on my first day in the hospital. It was overwhelming at first seeing so many patients in need of immediate medical care. From my first day, I noticed that the hospital holds more patients than it was designed for. The red ward was a thin, long room where all of the beds are lined up with no divisions, giving the patients no sense of privacy. Some seemed like they had been in the unit for a long time and I found out that the unit was created to hold patients for a maximum of 24 hours to stabilize them before transferring them to the appropriate unit. However, since all of the units are usually filled past capacity, they hesitate to take new patients, causing them to spend multiple days or weeks in the emergency unit.
As I followed a doctor around, I noticed that the waiting room was always full as hordes of people desperately waited to seek medical attention. We also stopped to talk to a nurse of the emergency unit who had collapsed on the job one day, but because of the lack of hospital beds, CPR was performed on the hard ground which caused him to fracture his spine. Later that same day, a nurse was complaining to the doctor, begging for a raise as the nurses are all underpaid and overworked.
All of these problems that the hospital is facing shocked me at first, but after having a class on health systems in Ghana, it made more sense as to why the hospital has so many more patients than it was designed to hold. Komfo Anokye is one of only a handful of teaching hospitals in the country, these tend to be the best hospitals with the most resources as they are used to train future doctors. Many patients choose to come to here as they have more of the necessary technologies to treat them such as CT scans or MRI machines. Patients from all over the Ashanti region choose to go to this hospital, leading to the present overcrowding. Many patients with complicated cases are also sent here, from 10 out of the 16 regions in Ghana.
While many people would assume that the hospital is in a terrible state due to the overcrowding, it is important to keep in mind that many of these problems exist in the US as well. American hospitals also tend to have incredibly long wait times and overwork their nurses. There is a negative stereotype that places in Africa, because of all the developing countries and its history, have very little resources in hospitals and poor sanitation. Throughout all the units I visited, there was technology and the appropriate resources necessary to give patients the treatment they needed. While there are improvements that can be made, the medical staff always values hygiene and focuses on giving the patients the best treatment possible.
As many doctors have said to me in my time at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, when machines break in their units as they sometimes do, the doctors have been trained to not rely on these machines but rather their intuition and the visible symptoms of the patients when necessary. Wherever a lack of resources or funding is present, it is made up for by the resourcefulness of doctors and nurses who then know how to treat patients in a more efficient manner than in the US where doctors consistently depend on machines to determine how to treat a patient.
For more general information on Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, click here.