Since the publication, by AFRICAWATCH, of health records purported to be those of the NPP Presidential candidate, Hon. Nana Akufo-Addo, I have been inundated by calls to comment. I will not comment on those records because as a physician, I consider patient privacy sacrosanct. Therefore, I do not want to encourage the practice of improperly obtaining and publishing medical records. To be fair to Africawatch, this has happened before. In 1972, US Democratic Vice-presidential candidate Senator Eagleton, had his records, revealing treatment for Depression with electroconvulsive therapy 20 years ealier, published. This led to a discussion about fitness for office that finally forced him off the ticket.
There are two public policy/interest issues raised by the publication of the purported health records. The first, obviously, is privacy. When people step forward to be President, they do not forteit their right to privacy. On the other hand, the public interest requires that Presidents can function effectively.
Let me illustrate this with late President Mills. He died quickly after collapsing and article 60 (6), worked perfectly. It states ” Whenever the President dies, resigns or is removed from office, the Vice-president shall assume office for the unexpired term of office of the President with effect from the date of death, resignation or removal of the President”. Now, suppose the President had survived the illness but not recovered all his mental capacities. Would he or his handlers have levelled with the country and had him resign? I think not. After all, he jogged on the tarmac of Kotoka airport to mislead the nation that he was in good health when he was not. That was a low point in an otherwise exemplarly career. Even America has been a victim of absence of Presidential candour about health numerous times. After Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in October, 1919, he limped through the last 18 months of his Presidency barely able to function. FDR never let on that he was in a wheel-chair and disabled. That may have been a factor in the passage of the 25th amendment.
As a nation which has suffered a Presidential death, we need to ensure that while we trust Presidents when they claim to be in good health, we verify that in fact they are in good health. This, must apply to Presidential candidates as well.
For the avoidance of doubt, I do not wish to imply that one needs to be in perfect health to be President.
I believe that each President should have an annual exam done jointly by his physician and another designated by the chief physician of 37 Military hospital. After this, the two shall issue a statement affirming that the President is in good health or otherwise.
This same procedure can be modified for Presidential candidates. Within a month of filing their nomination papers, they must have an exam by a Ghanaian physician who shall affirm that the candidate is of sound physical, mental and social health and fit for the rigours of the Presidency.
Neither of these should involve making the medical records public.
Finally, regardless of the rules, we must rely on the hope that those who seek the highest office have the highest ethics and will put the public interest above their ambitions and private interests. Then they can look at themselves and say, “If healthy, I will be a great President but in failing health, I must pass up the Presidency so that Ghana can have a President who will not be distracted by his health and infirmities”.
Let the faithful say, “Amen”.
God bless Ghana.