During the weekend, I spoke to the UK High Commissioner in Accra, His Excellency, Mr Jon Benjamin. Of course, he had followed the outrage over the case of my friend David who was refused the emergency visa he had applied for in order to visit the United Kingdom on compassionate medical grounds. David needed emergency life-saving heart surgery and we had raised all the funds to pay for his trip and his treatment, but an official in the UK Home Office turned down his application. After that, it turned into a race against time as I headed down to Ghana with a leading heart surgeon who operated on David in Accra instead.
To be fair to Mr Benjamin, he doesn’t work for the UK Home Office and he wasn’t aware of the original application but, as the United Kingdom’s representative in the Republic of Ghana, he now finds himself and his staff in the eye of the storm. Actually, more of a hurricane.
This is what readers wrote:
Strong words and a lot of pain. There are a couple of hundred more comments all worth reading.
Mr Benjamin and I had a frank conversation on Saturday. His Excellency was reasonable and did not attempt to defend the Home Office. He was sympathetic and asked after David’s health several times. Then, yesterday, the Home Office apologized from its office in the UK and reversed its decision over David’s visa.
The HO official said:
“I accept that the entry clearance officer could and should have contacted you and discussed the application before reaching a decision. I am sorry that this did not happen. I appreciate the serious medical decisions that have had to be made following the refusal of the entry clearance application and I am sorry that these have been required.”
I am not here to lecture the UK authorities. They made a bad error of judgement; now they have acknowledged that and apologized. That doesn’t happen very often. It is time to move on and work out how to get cardiology facilities to the people of Ghana. I cannot imagine how many people are affected by this nightmare killer disease. It rips lives apart and strikes without warning. That’s not quite true. The tell-tale signs are often there, but you have to know where to look for them and, for that, you need sophisticated equipment.
Take a look at this page on Google. It’s a page full of images of people getting their hearts tested. Notice anything? Yes – not one of the patients is from Sub-Saharan Africa. Zero. Not one. Scroll down, scroll down some more and it’s the same story.
There’s a reason for that. It’s because most of the 1 billion residents of Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to even the most basic cardiovascular diagnostics. So few, in fact, they don’t show up on the world’s biggest search engine. A billion people and nobody shows up on Google! Sure, there’s a handful of cardiothoracic facilities able to carry out ECG tests and maybe even angiograms (detailed images of the heart) but in many cases they are:
a. under-resourced; or
b. insanely expensive; or
c. out of order.
The consequences are brutal. Most people in Sub-Saharan Africa with Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) are oblivious to that fact. They have never been diagnosed and, often, they do not recognize the symptoms. So, their chest pain just gets a bit worse everyday. Perhaps they think its indigestion. They are breathless climbing a single flight of stairs, but they believe that’s just what happens as you get older. And then one day, out of the blue, just like that, it happens. And yet another family is left fatherless or without a mother. Or a brother. Son. Daughter.
Yes, there are heart attacks in Europe and the US. Of course there are. But most people get diagnosed far earlier than their African counterparts and they usually have the opportunity to take action. They receive valuable education on diet, medication, exercise, lifestyle. And when the Big One happens, more often than not they can get treated quickly and effectively. Heart bypass surgery or interventional cardiology of the type Professor Nicholas Ossei-Gerning performs every day are available up and down the European and American lands. But not in most of Africa and that’s what needs to change.
Coronary Heart Disease is one of the four Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and a major global scourge. But nowhere more than in Africa! One in ten adult deaths is due to Coronary Heart Disease.
If you want to understand the scale of the problem, watch this video:
I ask you: What kind of world is this to hand down to our children? A world in which their only hope is to be so vastly wealthy they can hop on a jet plane and get their heart checked out in Mumbai, London, Paris or Boston. “Medical tourism” as it is known. India makes US$160 billion a year for providing “quality treatment at an affordable price“.
Our children deserve better!
In the past week I have seen first hand what it means to suffer from undiagnosed cardiovascular disease; to face the prospect of needlessly losing your life in your early fifties; to be utterly without hope of treatment unless you catch that plane ride to India, South Africa or Europe. I hope I never have to see it again.
Ultimately, here’s the thing. Unless there is urgent action to fix the situation, there will be more and more fatalities in Ghana (and neighbouring countries) directly attributable to the World’s Leading Killer. And some of them will be entirely avoidable.
Here is the question: Would you like to play your part? We are talking about a huge goal. In Silicon Valley they call it a BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goal! That’s how everything worthwhile starts – with a BHAG.
Of course there is a risk of failure. But it’s like Michael Jordan said:
So fill in your details below and, working together, we can make it happen! Please forward this to anyone who needs to see it.
My earlier blogs: