Monday, 5 September 2016

Debate over disclosure of health status of Presidential hopefuls

Since the publication, by AFRICAWATCH, of health records purported to be those of the NPP Presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, there has been a renewed debate as to whether it is imperative for Presidential Candidates to disclose their health status. As a physician, one cannot comment on the health records of people because patient privacy is sacrosanct. It will therefore be unacceptable for one to encourage the practice of improperly obtaining and publishing medical records of people. To be fair to AFRICAWATCH, it must be said however that this is not the first time a newspaper or magazine is publishing the health records of someone. In 1972, US Democratic Vice-presidential candidate, Senator Eagleton, had his records, revealing treatment for Depression with electro-convulsive therapy 20 years earlier, published. This led to a discussion about fitness for office that finally forced him off the ticket.

There are two public policy or 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 forfeit their right to privacy. On the other hand, the public interest requires that Presidents can function effectively. The issue is how can, quote and unquote, a sick President run the affairs of the state effectively? That is probably why citizens must be assured that people running for the highest office of the land are truly healthy. 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. Also, President Franklin Roosevelt, popularly known as FDR never let on that he was in a wheel-chair and disabled. That may have been a factor in the passage of the infamous 25th amendment. As a nation which has suffered a Presidential death, Ghanaians need to ensure that while they trust Presidents when they claim to be in good health, they verify that in fact they are in good health.

This, must apply to Presidential candidates as well. For the avoidance of doubt, this does not imply that one needs to be in perfect health to be President. Each President should have an annual medical examination 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 examination 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, quote "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" unquote. God bless Ghana.


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