President John Dramani Mahama recently at the Korle-bu Teaching Hospital commissioned the 640 Slice CT machine to launch Ghana into the list of a small but elite group of nations worldwide that currently have this equipment as part of their medical infrastructure. What are the equipment all about?
The 640 Slice CT and the MRI machines are both the latest in the world of scanning technology, made by Toshiba, or more appropriately Toshiba-Shimadzu-Fuji of Japan, which global technological giant Agvad is the sole representative of in Ghana. Ghana is actually the third country in Africa to have this 640 Slice CT equipment. The equipment does not only diagnose, it also predicts.
Which are the other two African countries that have these machines?
You have Egypt; and, you have South Africa. And even in the developed world, it is not that common. For instance, if you take the whole of Great Britain, they have only one of these machines. A lot of credit should, therefore, go to His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama for this feat.
What specifically do these machines do?
They scan almost everything in the human body. And, like I said, it does not only diagnose, it also predicts. This is why it is also vital requirement in research. It also helps in resolving a lot of cases. Having them in here Ghana is of enormous benefit. So instead of flying to America or Europe for sundry advanced medical diagnosis, these equipment bring the same quality of technological service home to, and within easier reach of, needy Ghanaians and our neighbors within our West African subregion.
Apart from Korle-bu, where else is this hi-tech equipment available in the country?
We have them in Tamale; we have them in Kumasi; we have them in the Volta Region; we have them in Cape Coast. But their installation in other parts of the country is in phases. By the end of this year, we should be able to complete the rest of the regions. And the aim of installing these machines is to bring quality medical equipment, the best medical imaging equipment in the world right home here to Ghana.
Is Agvad limited only to Ghana?
No. This year, Toshiba plans to set up a hub here in Ghana to cover west and central Africa. This is a big plus, this is a very, very big plus because it means we will have all the Toshiba expertise and technology that is channelled towards west and central Africa being centred here, and Ghana will benefit from it.
Since the installation of the equipment, how have you been monitoring the usage; and, what have been the benefits of the equipment so far?
The hospitals are impressed with them. First, they were doing, excuse me to say, wrong imaging. But today, they have this sophisticated machines and at the highest end of the technology at that. And, they can now do so, so much, they can now see everything. I mean, personnel are now able to do the right thing, instead of guessing. It’s a great feeling, it’s a great feeling.
How do you explain to the man in the street who does not understand the technical intricacies of the machines the difference between these equipment and the usual scanning, and or x-ray, machines normally seen at hospitals?
This is very different from an x-ray machine in that it easily slices the human body into 640 slides in one rotation of less than one minute. Which tells you that this is a more advanced machine with capability for a more detailed examination of various organs of the human body, and that in much less time compared to the normal x-ray machine.
What kind of mechanism have you put in place to ensure proper and timely maintenance of this equipment at their various locations around Ghana?
That’s a good question. Agvad’s core value is service. If you don’t have a good service culture, you will not achieve what you have embarked upon. So, I’m proud to say that with the collaboration of Toshiba-Fuji-Shimadzu, we are proud to say that we have the best of engineers in the whole of west Africa. Indeed, some of our engineers even fly, on demand, to some other west African countries on specialist assignments. That’s partly why Toshiba trusted us such as make us a hub. And when this hub here in Ghana becomes fully operational, we hope even more Toshiba engineers will come here, will be stationed here in Ghana, bringing in more of their expertise, to help in promoting and servicing the equipment and transfer some of that expertise to Ghanaians.
Tell us about Agvad. What is the company all about?
Agvad dates back to my father, may he rest in peace. He originally started Agvad as just a medical and chemist shop. Agvad was operated as such for several years before being passed on to the second generation of the family who have now taken it further to the present next level of a medical engineering company. So, that is how we have today grown to become a multi-million dollar industry. And I’m proud to say that we are the best in what we do.
In other words, the company started out as a pharmacy?
Yes, as a pharmacy.
How long have you been in existence then?
You are talking of since the early 1970’s.
Where do you think Agvad is going from here?
Our motto is to make sure that we become the best in our sector, and to be able to give the best to the people of Ghana. And whatever I could do to persuade Toshiba, Fuji and Shimadzu to deploy their latest technology to Ghana, I will do it. Because it was not easy getting the 640 Slice CT scanner into Ghana. And also to get the latest technology of MRI and so on. But we succeeded; and I give credit to the current government of Ghana, to President John Mahama and late President John Attah Mills, for standing by us to make this equipment available to the citizens of Ghana. And, thankfully, the equipment have also been captured in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). So access to them is not just limited to only the rich and powerful in society. Today, Ghanaians should be proud that they have all these medical facilities right here within their country. And to make it even more exciting is the fact that the number of medical facilities where they were available keeps expanding. First, it used to be only Korle-bu that had them. People had to come all the way down from the north to access them, spend three or four days in the process, wait for your turn before you are being scanned, and so on. But today, you have the most sophisticated equipment lying down at Korle-bu and elsewhere around the country; and, they are all functioning very well. We intend to expand the scope of facilities where the equipment is available to all over Ghana and west Africa. Infact right now, people are coming to Ghana from all over our west Africa subregion to access the equipment. What Ghana has, I mean the technology that Ghana has in medical imaging, no other country in west Africa has anything similar. So Ghanaians today should be proud and give credit to their current government, moreso as the equipment is cheap for evryone to access. Now, Ghanaian medical personnel can diagnose cases more easily and be able to predict and tell you, for instance, that in the next five years or so, you will have this or that ailment. So they are now better able to help you prevent such ailment from happening to you. That, I think, is also a good sign of better things to come.
What will you say are Agvad’s major challenges?
Our major challenges mostly spin off from the current global financial meltdown. But I am happy to say that so far, Ghana has been able to manage somehow. Competition? Yes, we have competition.
What sort of competition do you have?
Well, we have Philips here. We have Siemens here. We also have General Electric.
All offering similar machines?
How are you managing such competition?
It’s all about service. You see, it’s easy to sell the machine. But then if you don’t have a good after-sales service culture in place, nobody will pay you attention next time. And, our motto is ‘Service’. But let me buttress my point with an example: Toshiba is the only company in the world making machines that can do 640 slices. Neither Siemens, Philips nor even General Electric has such capability. So, technology-wise, we are far advanced.
You have severally given credit in the course of this interview to the current Ghanaian government. Specifically, what level of official support have you received?
It’s been very good. We sit down; we discuss. Nonetheless, we go through the tendering system. Nothing is done without due process; we go through the tendering system, the PPA (Public Procurement Authority), public procurement and all.
Given the social and economic benefits derivable in having such high quality and hi-tech medical equipment domestically available, what advice do you have for Ghana’s neighbours who are yet to invest is similar medical facilities for the benefit of their citizens?
What I’ll tell them is to prioritize. Because every country need to have a quality medical infrastructure to safeguard the health and well-being of its citizens. Countries like Nigeria, which I should say is the richest country in west Africa, need urgently to invest in such machines for the benefit of their peoples. Indeed, a country like Nigeria should be leading Ghana in the acquisition of this kind of technology. But ironically, Ghana is ahead in this area.
Talking about Nigeria, has Agvad made moves to exploit the huge benefits accruable from entering such a vast market?
There’s an agent in Nigeria already.
An agent of Agvad’s?
No! It’s an independent agent of Toshiba’s. But when Toshiba sets up its west and central African hub here in Ghana, such agents will be covered by Agvad from here in Accra. Already we are talking to some of the agents telling them what we have done in Ghana in the hope that they would try and replicate same in their various countries.
What’s the future of Agvad like?
The future of Agvad is to be a leader in its sector, to be on top of the competition; and, to be the best. Admittedly, it’s not that easy; such a vision calls for lots of hardwork. But I give thanks to the Almighty God that that is a vision we have set our minds to achieve. Provided that you have a clean heart, and in everything that you do you put God first; and, if you are giving a machine, what you are giving is a new machine, not an old one, you will surely succeed. I will give you an instance: Government of Ghana purchased 640 Slice CT, but Toshiba in return, what did they do? They upgraded it by 128 slides. Now, that is good. So we keep praying. The bottom-line, however, is that I try as much as possible to get the best of the companies to give to our motherland.
Since Toshiba plans to make Ghana their hub soon, are they, perhaps, also planning to soon commence the assembling of some of their machines in the country?
That will come. Because everything has its place and time.
Who is Mr. Gamel Sinare?
Gamel Sinare is like any other Ghanaian, the son of Alhaji Sallah Saleh Sinare. My mother is an Egyptian. My mother is the first Egyptian woman to be married to a Ghanaian. She arrived Ghana when it was still the Gold Coast. My father was an adviser to the late President Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President. I did part of my primary school in Ghana and continued in Egypt. I had my university education in the United States of America, from where I came back with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). My mother actually had some misgivings on my going to America, because going to the States evoked fears that I may not come back. But I did come back. With the blessing of my parents, this pharmacy started as a family business but, now we have veered into medical engineering. And today as you see, we are the better for it. I am married with three children.