On the 10th of April 2013, the Medical Laboratory Technology Students Association (MELTSA) was formed in the University of Cape Coast (UCC) to cater for the specific needs of the students trained as professional Biomedical Scientists to service the Health System in Ghana.
The Inauguration was done before a student audience that knew very little about the march towards this inauguration; ‘The Movement for Independence’. It was independence because way back in 2004, the Department of Laboratory Technology of the UCC was running the Science Laboratory Technology program; with focus on generally laboratory practice without specific recourse to Clinical and Medical Laboratory practice. In 2005, the first ice-breaking batch of Nine (9) Medical Laboratory Technology students were admitted to study for a degree in Medical Laboratory Technology (MLT). This consequently resulted in the department running a twin program with different focusses but similar names. I was privileged to be enrolled as part of the second batch of students (26 in total) in this program and the enthusiasm was very high, as much as that of my colleagues.
Having started the program, there was a new wave for professional identification blowing through the health system with the Medical Laboratory Scientists seeking to occupy their proper place in the health sector of Ghana as the foundation of evidence-based diagnosis. This professional surge engulfed the various Universities that run the MLT program, and the UCC at the time was the youngest University on the bloc offering such training. Of course there existed the Laboratory Technology Students Association of Ghana (LABTSAG), the association responsible for the welfare of the then students of the General Laboratory Science program. We (MLT students) were absorbed into this association but later the signs were clear that we needed a separate association to be able to flow with the wave to carve the rightful niche for the professional Biomedical Scientist.
There was therefore the need for a breakaway; a need for diplomacy and resolution to get such a student body that will connect us to the professional feed outside at the time. We could see the importance of this crystal clear, but the resources then were scarce and the challenges were ominously staring us in the face. We did not have our own full-time lecturers, our total student number at the time was 60 (drawn out of just 3 batches of intake) and it was not possible to get the Professional body meddling in the affairs of a department that was seen to be splitting along lines of identity. What it meant was that we had to take this destiny into our own hands and press for our own independence from the already existing students association. It was a dilemma for young students who did not have strong roots and huge forces. The dilemma was because of (two) 2 main things: we needed to breakaway without prejudicing the relationship we had with the already existing system and without painting the picture of rebellion. At the same time we needed the speed to match the urgency with which the professional fraternity was moving. But all we had was 60 students, a few part-time lecturers who shared our concern but had their own administrative limitations.
Just like it was in the time of Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana’s first president) during the struggle for Ghana’s independence, there were those in our ranks who thought that the radical approach (which meant excluding ourselves from the activities of the existing association and refusing to pay our dues to them) was the surest way to fast-track the process. We had those on the other side who thought that the long-term diplomacy was the best approach (dialoguing until we could have roots strong enough to get the regime to heed to our request). Today, I look back then and I think both elements worked. The boycotts won us higher attention than the diplomatic sittings, and the diplomatic approach was able to mitigate the disaffection we were receiving as result of the radical ‘protests’, keeping us in the boat long enough to see the birth of our baby on the 10th April 2013; under a departmental regime that gave a listening ear, we saw our struggle yield fruit. It was not all rosy. There is always a price-tag on such struggles; some of our colleagues were threatened with rustication, we had to commit extra school time to consultations with proponents of other successful struggles, and had to many times engage in damage-control PR to respond to misrepresentations about the course for which we were fighting for.
So it has happened, the Medical Laboratory Technology students Association has been formed in the University of Cape Coast to make student benefit fully from their chosen field of study. I write this as tribute to all those of us who have been part of the struggle. But then, the bigger picture is to translate this movement into the bigger picture of getting our professional body (Ghana Association of Biomedical Laboratory Scientists) take its rightful place as chief stakeholders in the health system and ensuring that the standards of our profession are upheld. I am hopeful that, sometime in the future, I will be writing again to tell you the success story of this bigger struggle.