Hospital staff steal COVID protection

Investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas from Ghana, who never reveals his identity on camera, said: “Where there is corruption, I want people to know, ‘Hey, someone out there is watching you!’”

Anas Aremeyaw Anas. Image: Supplied

Anas is the CEO of Tiger Eye private investigations and Executive Director of Tiger Eye Social Foundation, which aims to expose corruption in Sub-Sahara Africa. Sponsored by the US-based MacArthur foundation, the foundation teaches Ghanaian student journalists how to sharpen their investigative and writing skills.

In Cashing in on Covid, a documentary aired on BBC Africa Eye on 20 June 2020, and subsequently watched by more than 332 132 viewers on YouTube, Anas went undercover to blow the whistle on hospital staff blatantly stealing personal protective equipment (PPE) earmarked for health care workers, all for a quick profit. This left health care workers exposed to COVID-19, denied protection by their own hospital workers.

Dr Randolph Baahadu, clinical co-ordinator in the Kumasi region, told Anas that “working with seriously ill COVID-19 patients, puts all staff at risk”. Due to shortages, doctors were buying their own PPEs. Critical Care Nurse, Benedicta Osei-Tutu from the Ashanti region, said that the municipality had supplied only 15 bodysuits.

Anas set the scene in the documentary with a clip of Ghanaian President, Nana Adufo-Addo, reassuring his people in a television broadcast at the start of the pandemic that sufficient PPE would be provided for all health care workers. Little did he (and hospital management), realise at the time that the criminal underworld was already “pilfering the kitty” of essential hospital stock food and medicines while security turned a blind eye. Now they were targeting PPEs.

A bodysuit. Image: Supplied

When Anas learned that pharmacy worker, Thomas Osei from the Greater Accra Regional hospital, was selling full bodysuits and plastic face shields, he sent an undercover investigator to go shopping. It was surprisingly easy – the purchase took place within the hospital premises. Later, Divine Kumordzi, from the hospital sewing team, was approached. And again, the transaction took place with ease, this time in the sewing room, now not only the place where torn sheets and hospital gowns were mended, but where cloth masks for the staff weremade. All this was captured on camera.

Osei denied selling PPEs, claiming that he had bought them from Unicom, a pharmaceutical company in Accra. He tried covering his tracks by requesting receipts for the purchases from the supplier. This hasty request was confirmed by Unicom CEO Patience Tsagah.

When Dr Frank Serebour, Vice President of the Ghana Medical Association, was informed of these sales, he was appalled and condemned hospital staff who were “willing to sell out their colleagues”. Dr Hadi Abdallah, a specialist surgeon from Kumasi hospital, said this was “wickedness” and begged the question: “How would the President feel if he knew this was happening?”

Disciplinary action was taken against Osei and Kumordzi. They were each suspended from work for two weeks without pay and made to refund their profits. Although these sentences were light, Anas was satisfied that the pilfering had been brought to the attention of the authorities, with Dr Abdallah saying that a better tracking system needed to be put into place.

Featured image: Cloth masks made in the sewing room at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital. Image: Supplied