A Starr News undercover investigation into healthcare delivery in the Upper East region has dredged up some disturbing findings development watchers say can only leave everyone in the country either concerned and safe or aloof but dead alive.
The underground mission, undertaken at a number of health facilities, uncovered nurses who have taken up the role of pharmacy technicians and are issuing wrong prescriptions which experts have confirmed as having direct links with kidney failure, liver damage, deformities and stunted growth in babies, infertility, low sperm count and premature ejaculation among the individual consumers.
Although every health facility is supposed to have such key staff as medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and nurses, this is not the case in the Upper East region where most of the facilities do not have pharmacy specialists— hence the issuance of killer drugs by nurses who are not trained drug dispensers.
The investigative findings, which development monitors say are a crucial reflection of the untold realities happening on a daily basis at countless health facilities dotted across the country, may also bring some respite to the elderly people in the region. This is because the aged— especially the old women—mostly suffer harsh treatments— including banishment and lynching— meted out by angry mobs who believe they are responsible when somebody dies of a kidney failure, when a baby is born with a deformity, when a couple breaks up after years-long childlessness or when somebody dies in an auto crash out of frustration from a combination of some conditions which may have been triggered by killer prescriptions or unhealthy lifestyles.
The Investigation and the Findings
Starr News acted as a patient seeking medical attention at some of the region’s health facilities and was among the patients who received drugs prescribed by nurses wrongly in charge of dispensaries.
A number of prescription sheets showing some deadly drugs issued by the nurses were also sighted and snapped during the disguised visits funded by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Ghana.
In one of the prescriptions, a man diagnosed with taenia corporis (enzyma) and otitis media (earache) was issued with erythromycin and griseofulvin— two drugs that are strictly not supposed to meet inside the human body. The interaction of the two drugs would damage the liver and trigger a diarrhoea which the patient never had in the first place. The wrong prescription would leave the patient untreated and he may return with a worsened condition to the same facility where the same nurses would only hand him a deadlier prescription.
A nurse at another facility, who wrote down “fungi skin infection” on a prescription sheet as the condition a patient had, also wrote down erythromycin for the patient to buy to cure the disease. Erythromycin is purely an antibacterial drug and, as such, is the last medicine to recommend as a remedy for fungi.
Another sheet sighted by Starr News shows another ‘poisonous concoction’ prescribed for a baby suffering from anaemia (deficiency of red blood cells) and dysentery (diarrhoea with phlegm and blood). A drug called Iron III, which would rather cause more diarrhoea, was included on a list of medicines prescribed for the dysentery-stricken anaemic baby. Also among the medications recommended obviously against the baby’s dysentery was erythromycin— which is not a drug for dysentery. As the deadly dysentery was not treated, the baby’s chances of survival were very slim.
In yet another instance, a laywoman with a candidiasis (white) which had developed into a Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) was prescribed amoxicillin capsules. The drug recommended to the woman is not a solution to the problem, but rather an antibacterial medicine which, if applied in the private part, would only kill the useful bacteria in the woman’s vagina and expose her to more bacterial infections.
The implications are that, whilst she herself may suffer infertility in the long run from an untreated candidiasis or PID, she would also infect her sexual partners who in turn would also infect others with the disease. Another baby, who had dysentery and needed maybe just metronidazole, was wrongly prescribed promethazine— a medication only used to treat vomiting. And the baby was supposed to take the wrong medication thoroughly for three days, according to the nurse-turned-dispenser.
A young man, attacked by malaria and taenia carpitis (a ringworm on the head), was handed a ‘poisonous cure’ by a nurse who prescribed artemether and griseofulvin— two drugs with a deadly interaction. If combined, griseofulvin would render artemether inactive whilst the mixture would trigger a dysentery attack and cause serious damage to the liver.
A Drain on the Economy
Whilst it remains unclear how long the nurses have engaged in this act, it is certain that the wrong prescriptions are not only destructive to the consuming public but also are a drain on the country’s resources and a burden on the national budget.
The drugs being wrongly prescribed are not free of charge. They come to the facilities at subsidised costs taken care of by government with the taxpayer’s cedis. The more the nurses dispense them wrongly, the more they throw the taxpayer’s money away and the worse the health hazards they inflict on the public who patronises their facilities.
The needless damage, depending on the enormity, would either lead the patients, as the conditions become progressively worse, back to the same facilities for more wrong medications or land them at faraway teaching hospitals where the costs of treatment required to tackle the resistance their bodies had built up over time against some overdosed drugs medicines can be overwhelming. There have been reported instances in which the pace at which the region’s drug storehouse ran out of stock was only attributed to the rate at which needless drugs were being thrown dangerously at patients by dispensing nurses.
A Poisoned Public and the SDGs
The poisonous medications fed to the public by nurses in the many places where there are no pharmacy technicians constitute the highest barrier to Ghana’s dream of attaining the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
As the Upper East Regional Chairman of the Ghana Coalition of NGOs in Health, Noble Asakeya Alagskomah, puts it, the rest of the 17 SDGs will remain unfeasible if the third goal— to “Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”— is allowed to be crushed.
“The goal number three is certainly the bedrock of all the other goals. If we don’t ensure first that we have a healthy people whose wellbeing is sufficiently promoted at all ages, in order words if we leave our health in the hands of people who are not qualified to render the critical services we unavoidably or unconsciously patronise, we would find it hard to pursue the first goal, which is to end poverty, and the second goal, which is to end hunger and achieve food security. If a wrong prescription damages your liver, and you are as a result on referral, how do you work to end poverty?
“And if nurses are issuing drugs that are causing deformities in babies, causing dysentery in children and generally prescribe wrong drugs to pupils and students, how can we achieve inclusive and equitable quality education in that sort of society? It can also affect any campaign for gender equality and empowerment for women and girls,” Mr. Alagskomah remarked in an interview with Starr News after the investigation had been conducted.