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Ghanaian professionals and their unwillingness to work in the three northern regions


Back in the 1970s when I was a wide-eyed student at Sunyani Secondary School, my English literature teacher, Mr. Yeboah was officially transferred to Damongo Secondary School courtesy of the Brong Ahafo Regional Education office. No reason was assigned for this move.

Mr. Yeboah, a southerner who apparently had never stepped foot in the north, reacted as if his world had collapsed; he was shocked beyond belief by the directive. He became very despondent and each time he came to class, he walked slowly and deliberately, an indication that he was mighty upset with the official decision to send him up north.

I am recounting this episode, first, to illustrate the attitude of many of our trained Ghanaian professionals towards postings to the northern regions, and second, to echo the frustrations and lamentations of one Mr. Peter Kwame Yeboah, executive director of the Christian Health Association of Ghana, who last week pointed out the three northern regions are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to healthcare provision.

Mr. Peter Kwame Yeboah laid out some grim statistics about the dismal healthcare situation in the north and here they are; the regions will need 450 healthcare professionals to provide much-needed care to vulnerable populations; there is only one gynecologist in the whole of Upper West region and 80 percent of pharmacists in the country are based in Accra and Kumasi.

Perhaps, Mr. Kwame Yeboah was just being too polite, a little diplomatic because he did not point fingers; he just made a generic statement and left it at that. But if you parse his words and read the tea leaves as it were, you would recognize that he was taking potshots at the medical profession and questioning why doctors and nurses are more inclined to ply their trade in the wealthier southern regions as opposed to the poorer north.

My former teacher’s consternation at being transferred to Damongo was rooted in a deep suspicion of the north, a trait very common among Ghanaian professionals. The fact is these professionals have misconceptions about the north, a region they know very little about, hence their constant rejections of transfers to service the inhabitants of the region, be it in healthcare, education or administration.

To many Ghanaian professionals, the northern regions of Ghana are a large swath of barren land inhabited by people who are still trapped in the 13th century and prone to unbridled violence.

Actually, they view the north as a far-flung outpost, far removed from the modern civilization and its trappings and when posted to the regions, the professionals act as if they have been banished to the vast unknown of the Sahara desert. This aversion to the north is so pervasive among professionals that even national service men and women find ways to avoid doing their service in the north.

These perceptions, sad as they are, unfortunately have been formed over years of negative publicity about the north by the national media who portray the area as a backwater, a place where progress is stagnant and the people lazy and shiftless and largely dependent on government largess..

However repulsive the attitude of Ghanaian professionals is towards postings to the “hinterland” blame must be put squarely on government who has in many instances not provided the much needed incentives to attract professionals to the north.

It is common knowledge that incentives such as free and decent accommodation and good salaries are in short supply. There are some professionals who are willing to pack bag and luggage and head to the north to work in our hospitals and schools, but they need some cajoling and incentives to jettisons their apprehensions about the regions.

Let’s be clear-eyed here; the northern regions remain stagnant and way behind other regions in the nation primarily because various governments over the years have failed to address some of the region’s fundamental problems. And one of those problems is the government’s inability to lure professionals to live and work in the area, arguably the most deprived regions in the country.

Vulnerable citizens in desperate need of healthcare will continue to suffer and the vast economic and financial disparities between the north and the south will remain in place if government does not act quickly to make the north  attractive enough for trained Ghanaian professionals.

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