“How a society treats its most vulnerable is always the measure of its humanity” – Ambassador Matthew Rycroft (United Kingdom Mission to the UN)

A few weeks ago, my dear friend, I encountered a spectacle that shocked me to my bones. A man very well advanced in age had pitched camp in front of a commercial facility I was managing along the Oxford Street in Osu. The old man was suffering from two major issues – a hugely bulging femoral hernia as well as a hugely swollen leg. My understanding was that until that weekend, he used to parade the Oxford Street. The two ailments had taken a huge toll on him and it had now heavily affected his movement. He had thus taken solace in front of the facility by a transformer on a Saturday afternoon. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to get him move on, my security co-ordinator left him here.

On Monday, my attention was drawn to the situation of the old man who by this time was in a perpetual drooping posture, as a result of weakness, hunger, abandonment and all. I initially got the security officers to engage him so we could help him back home. In an almost inaudible voice, he indicated that he had come to Accra a few years ago from the Agona Swedru area and was resident somewhere around Abeka Lapaz. Asked if he could be helped home, he said he was unable to trace his route back home.

We then decided to make a report to the Police Service. Unfortunately, that was the day before the ‘Arise Ghana’ demonstration. The Osu Divisional Command indicated that all their men were unavailable as they were feverishly preparing for the demonstration the next day. We tried again the next day (Tuesday) which was the day of the demonstration but there was no success. By this time, the old man had begun urinating and defeating on himself creating a health and environmental risk in the neighbourhood.

Still bent on getting help for the old man, dear friend, I got in touch with the Police Service Headquarters on Wednesday morning using their emergency numbers and was given contacts of the National Ambulance Service. I got through to them and they also indicated that per their protocols, they were unable to pick up passengers to the hospital unaccompanied. They were willing to pick up the old man if I was prepared to have someone accompany him and be responsible for his upkeep there. I thought that was risky and so I hesitated.

Over the period, we had also reached out to our firm’s private security service provider to enable them use their security network to get assistance from the Police Service. Unfortunately, that also did not yield any result inspite of all the assurances they received from the Regional Police Command.

By this time and as a result of the gentleman’s condition, he had soiled himself for days and riddled the frontage of our facility with stench. Much as I was getting desperate, I didn’t appear to have any further hope of support for him.

Following assistance from a friend, I finally got the Police Service personnel in. The team was made up of nine officers in two vehicles. Upon examining him and noticing he was alive, the officials indicated that they could not handle the matter because the old man was neither dead nor a criminal. They then advised that we contact the Municipal Health Directorate of the Assembly for help. Before I could say ‘jack’, they had left. I was back at ‘square one’.

After some further efforts, we got through to the Municipal Health Directorate offices in Adabraka where a complaint was lodged. The feedback was for us to report to the Accra Psychiatric Hospital instead. We followed through with that only to be told that government used to have a budget line to take care of such patients for free at the Psychiatric Hospitals. Unfortunately, this had been discontinued for a number of years. However, if I was willing to bear his medical upkeep bills and have someone to attend to his physical needs, they were ready to receive him into the facility.

Having exhausted every possible available to me by this country’s systems, the old man had to be left out there in the open (Saturday all through till Friday). Rather very sadly he passed on in the late evening of the Friday. The Osu Divisional Command of Ghana Police was informed of his passing. Interestingly, within twenty minutes, they were at the facility to pick up the mortal remains.

My dear friend, for a number of days since then, I was beside myself in shock the way our country through its systems and officials treats the vulnerable. Here was someone who was first a Ghanaian, a status that meant nothing to our authorities. This person was not just a sick person but also a very aged one who would have been given priority attention elsewhere, but not in his own beloved country.

Is it not baffling that not a single one of the institutions contacted (Ghana Police Service, National Service, Osu-Klottey Municipal Assembly, Department of Social Welfare, Accra Psychiatric Hospital) had any system put in place to attend to such vulnerable persons such as the old sick man, in any way? This was someone who I am certain had paid one form of tax or the other in the prime of his productive life. Yet, here he was, helpless and abandoned when he needed his country’s support most. Sadly, immediately news of his passing was relayed, the same institutions were on hand with alacrity to pick up his remains for the morgue soon to be interred in a mass grave, if unclaimed.

In our national capital alone, there are all manner of vulnerable people – street hawkers, street beggars, homeless people, abandoned children, mentally-unstable people, slum dwellers, etc. The presence of these people on our streets, markets and other spaces as well as the many slums springing up along our motorways and other public spaces is a constant reminder about our lack of attention to their plight. They constitute an affront to our sense of humaneness. Why do we do this to ourselves, Ghana? Is it that we are so poor that we can no longer place value on human life, or that our leaders have become so immune to the situation, that we simply cannot be bothered!

My dear friend, what happened to that old man could happen to any of us or our relatives and that is absolutely unfortunate. As India’s founding President puts it, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.

The ordinary Ghanaian deserves better than this!

ERIC ATTA-SONNO 233-24-3-821447 Living day-by-day as an AMBASSADOR of the LORD wherever I find myself