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Before UDS: where did Ghana’s doctors train?

written by John Nott
12/02/20

Maps are, like history, one of my great loves. And historical maps are even greater than the sum of their already pretty great parts. On finding the register of Ghanaian physicians in a 1984 edition of the Ghana Gazette–a weekly government bulletin that normally details the minutia of government business and, in the 1980s at least, also the lottery results–I thought it deserved to be mapped out.

The map here shows where and when doctors registered to practice in Ghana in 1984 received their first degree. This data excludes the temporary, expatriate register, so only Ghanaian doctors are shown. Although unable to show the full provision of medical education in the earlier years, due to doctors having retired or passed away before 1984, this map still outlines the movement of educative centres over a period of dramatic political change.

Britain was the primary space for training under empire, but Colonial Office concerns around the destabilising effect of educated Africans meant that African access to professional medicine was extremely limited. With independence in 1957, universities in Western Europe began accepting more students and, following the extension of scholarships to Ghanaian students, significant numbers of doctors travelled to the Soviet Union, some even attending Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University. Named for the murdered Congolese independence leader and martyr to African nonalignment, Patrice Lumumba University was the most explicit Soviet attempt to develop pro-socialist African and Asian elites through the provision of higher education. Even though Soviet-educated students learnt their craft in Russian or Polish or Serbo-Croatian, they usually had a second copy of English-language textbooks which they used alongside vernacular editions.

With the establishment of the University of Ghana Medical School in 1963, Ghana gained considerably more agency over medical education. Although UGMS was high on Nkrumah’s agenda for Ghanaian self-determination–localising the production of doctors in much the same way as the Akosombo Dam sought to nationalise electricity generation–textbooks were still primarily drawn from Britain, as were many of the early professors, the x-ray machines and the glasswear needed for basic science instruction. As with the movement of students to the Soviet Union, shifting the educative centre does not, it seems, always move the epistemic centre at the same time.

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