Ato Kwamena Dadzie: The Cromwell Syndrome


In the 1990s death seemed to be having a good time grabbing one official of the PNDC junta after another at a certain hospital in London. The angel of death, it seemed, was lurking in the corridors of Cromwell Hospital, ambushing and capturing Ghanaian government officials who were admitted there for treatment.

It was very common at the time to hear GBC Radio announcing the death of one ‘big man’ after another – at Cromwell Hospital. It got to a point, the very serious matter of death turned into a joke.

“If you are sick and in need of treatment abroad, avoid Cromwell at all cost,” healthy government officials joked among themselves, I am told. They laughed and laughed off a certain pervasive stupidity, which continue to make African leaders think it is alright for them to seek medical treatment in hospitals in places like Johannesburg, Berlin and London (not at Cromwell, though) whilst the healthcare systems in their own countries fell to pieces before their very eyes.

As he lies in his hospital bed in Saudi Arabia, receiving treatment for all sorts of diseases affecting his kidneys and heart, I wonder what is going through the mind of Nigerian president, Umaru Yar’adua. If he lives (and I hope he does), will he go back home with a determination in his heart, given a new lease on life, to make sure that almost all ailments known to man can be treated in hospitals in his country?

I will like to know the last thoughts of Courage Quashigah, our former minister of health, as he took in his last breaths in a hospital in Israel. Did it ever occur to him that if he had done enough, the doctors who tried to save him would have been Ghanaian doctors working hard in Accra and not Israeli physicians in a hospital in Tel Aviv?

At the height of his health crisis – when his opponents thought he would fall dead any minute – President Mills (then a mere presidential candidate) sought treatment in Johannesburg. He lived. I wonder if that has changed his outlook in anyway and filled him with a determination to, at the very least, start a process to transform our health care system.

And that makes me wonder: will President Mills and the current health minister do any different? What steps will President Mills take to make sure that if he ever suffers a relapse, he would be able to walk to Korle Bu and get the treatment he deserves: world class, professional and life-saving – just as he got in Johannesburg.

I am sorry Quarshigah died two weeks ago. My sincerest sympathies go to his family. But I look at his tenure in office and I ask myself: what did he do to make sure that in the short- to long-term, our country’s health system is developed to such an extent that there is little need, if any at all, for anyone (rich or poor) to go abroad to seek treatment. From one angle, I see little: “regenerative health”, which did him no good. From another angle, sadly, I see nothing!

I just don’t understand why a group of human beings, supposedly endowed with brains and skills like any other, will sit down and watch their health systems crumble while they pay so much to take advantage of what others have built.

How long does it take to build a world-class hospital?

It shouldn’t take more than a presidential term to build a well-equipped, well-staffed hospital which can cater to almost every medical condition on earth. We are not talking about a new engineering feat here. We are not asking any African government take on a new engineering feat – building something like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It’s hospitals we are talking about here.

With fellow-feeling and a fair sprinkling of common sense as well as some money and determination, every African country should have at least two world class hospitals, which will make it unnecessary – except in very rare cases – for their leaders, and even the commoners, to seek treatment in hospitals abroad.

If there was a world class hospital in Nigeria, Yar’adua will be at home and his countrymen wouldn’t be so angry with his absence from the country. If there were good hospitals in Ghana, there would have been no need for Atta Mills to go to South Africa for treatment only to return to Accra to tell us that “Atta Mills has a problem with vision.” One can only hope that whatever problem he has with vision has not affected his ability to look into the future. I pray he sets a good example for other African leaders to follow and he wouldn’t end up dead in a hospital like Cromwell.

If our leaders had been less selfish and half as sensible and forward-looking as they should be all those deaths at Cromwell Hospital in the 1990s, should have prompted them to start having visions of building world class hospitals at home. Sadly, almost 20 years after Cromwell Hospital gained popularity in Ghana, women in labour are forced to walk up stairs in our “premier” hospital, our healthcare system is as sick as the people it’s supposed to treat.

Thus, the Cromwell Syndrome (the malaise that makes it impossible for our leaders to think about fixing our health infrastructure whilst resorting to what others, more sensible, I suppose, have built) afflicts many African nations. As Ghanaians welcomed Quarshigah’s mortal remains and as Nigerians demonstrate against the absence of their sickly leader, I can’t help but dream about the day we’d get a lasting cure.

Credit: Ato Kwamena Dadzie (