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Sent home, abandoned and saved in Ghana

By Will Ross
BBC News, Accra

Ama Sumani is slowing down. She is only 39 but moves like an elderly grandmother.

Ama Sumani
Ama came to the UK five years ago as a student
Her feet, legs and face are swollen.

A week ago Ama was lying in a hospital bed in Cardiff. Her kidneys damaged by cancer, she had just had a session of the dialysis treatment she needs three times a week to stay alive.

Then early in the morning, in walked three immigration officers.

They removed her from the hospital in a wheelchair, drove her to Gatwick airport and the very same afternoon put her on a plane to Ghana.

Ama's visa was out of date and so she had been in the UK illegally.

No grudges

The next evening I found Ama sitting next to the swimming pool at a luxury hotel a stone's throw from the Ghanaian president's house.

A map of Ghana showing the capital Accra
The immigration officers were still with her and looked upset. Their efforts to help the widow get dialysis treatment at Accra's main hospital had failed.

They had obviously struck up quite a relationship and one of the officers had even given Ama a pair of her shiny silver-coloured earrings.

They may have escorted her out of Britain but Ama certainly held no grudges and was grateful they had at least tried to help. So she wanted to show a bit of Ghanaian hospitality to the British by seeing them off at the airport.

But they left late that evening without saying goodbye to Ama.

Knowing that she faced an uncertain future without the life-prolonging treatment, perhaps it was easier that way - but Ama could not understand it and she rang their mobiles over and over again. There was no reply.

Useless possessions

The next morning Ama had to check out of the 100 ($200) a night hotel which had been paid for by the British taxpayer.

It was clear she was totally lost. Her family lives in northern Ghana and Ama had only spent one day in the capital in her life and that had been on her way to the UK, via the embassy to pick up her four-year visa.

I offered to help her try again at the hospital and so Ama packed her bags, not sure where she would sleep that night.

She had a couple of suitcases and a large plastic bag full of furry-collared winter coats, which in Ghana's stifling heat had suddenly become her most useless possessions.

When Ama Sumani asked about the cost of the dialysis, she was presented with a scrap of paper which brought tears to her eyes
"Won't be able sell them for much here, will I love?" Ama joked.

Another mannerism she had picked up in Cardiff emerged as she left the hotel.

"Thank you. Ta Ta," she cheerfully said to the porters.

Costly treatment

The dialysis room in Ghana's main hospital does not fit the image many have of the medical facilities in Africa.

There is an impressive line-up of white machines, blinking lights and digital read-outs.

The medical journal the Lancet described Ama's removal from the Cardiff hospital as 'atrocious barbarism'
But when Ama Sumani asked about the cost of the dialysis, she was presented with a scrap of paper which brought tears to her eyes. It was a bill for about 2,500 ($5,000) to be paid upfront. That was just for three months' dialysis.

Ama reached slowly into her pocket and pulled out a few crumpled notes - enough money for just two days' treatment.


When Ama had appealed against her imminent removal from the UK, doctors had advised the judge that without the treatment she had only weeks to live.

As it became clear that the dialysis was available but unaffordable, criticism of the Home Office grew and the medical journal, the Lancet, described Ama's removal from the Cardiff hospital as "atrocious barbarism".

Of course, there are plenty of people who are quick to back the government's action and question why on earth British taxpayers should pay the medical bills for a Ghanaian who was not even there legally.

"It's the National Health Service not the International Health Service," is a view I've heard a few times.

But there is a counter-argument.

Turn up at a British hospital and do not be too surprised if the nurse or doctor who treats you is Ghanaian. With the drain of this exodus on the Ghanaian health service, some here suggest the UK might owe Ghana a favour or two.


This week I have seen Ama deteriorate as she skips the dialysis treatment.

Ama Sumani
Ama's case has caused widespread controversy in the UK
Her face and feet have swollen and she can barely walk.

But now help has arrived.

Ama took a phone call from Wales. And as the total stranger on the end of the line explained that she was sending the 2,500 so she could start the treatment, Ama's face moved from shock to joy and the phrase "God bless you!" was repeated over and over, and then finally laughter.

It will be a struggle for Ama to pay for the ongoing dialysis. But as she phones to say she is on her way to the hospital there is some cheer in her voice as she tells me, "Thanks love. See you later. Ta Ta."

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 17 January, 2008 at 1100 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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