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[Opinion] Farewell, Prof. Francis Nkrumah – Cameron Duodu

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The eldest son of the late Pres­ident of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, sadly passed away on June 30, 2024. He was 89 years of age.

Prof. Nkrumah was educat­ed at St Augustine’s College in Cape Coast and then went to Germany to study medicine. He specialised in paediat­rics. Later he studied at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, in the USA.

Back in Ghana, he undertook a wide-ranging amount of medical tasks that took him to the very top of both medical practice and medical education.

Asked to describe himself in an interview, he said: “Simply, I am a paediatrician and a public health specialist. I did my first degree in medicine in Berlin, Germany, where I graduated in 1961. I subsequently did my postgraduate training in paedi­atrics at the Children’s Hospital, Boston, and at the Harvard School of Public Health, from where I graduated with a mas­ter’s in public health, before returning to Ghana to take up an appointment as lecturer in paediatrics and child health at the University of Ghana.”

What Prof. Nkrumah was too modest to say was that whilst studying in the US, he somehow came to the notice of America’s leading newspaper, THE NEW YORK TIMES, which ran a full feature on him – something few students are able to experience.

He went on: “I later took up an appointment as professor of paediatrics at the University of Zimbabwe, where I stayed for about seven years. Then I returned to Ghana to take up an appointment as Director of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research at the University of Ghana.” When he retired from Noguchi, “the University of [Ghana] accord­ed me emeritus status at the Institute.”

This meant “super­vising some research activities at the Institute, particularly in the area of vaccine-preventable diseases and malaria.” Inter­viewer: You were retired when people approached you and asked you to become a member of the PAG, and to chair the committee.

As a retired profes­sor, you could have enjoyed life, retirement …what made you accept that extra responsibility? Prof. Nkrumah: Because I was, and still am active, academically speaking. I am still assisting WHO/AFRO on immunisa­tion issues within the African region.

I had been, for 12 years, chairman of the Task Force on Immunisation (TFI), and so WHO/ AFRO thought that since immunisation was an area I had made some contri­bution to, the responsibility of chairing the PAG for the Meningitis Vaccine Project [MVP] would be something I could assume.”

“Initially when PAG was formed, there was no real chair. It was only [later, at a] meeting in Malawi that PAG appointed me through WHO/AFRO to the chair… After 12 years as TFI chairman, I thought that AFRO/WHO ought to appoint a new chair­man. Chairing the PAG was more or less an extension, and after AFRO/WHO appoint­ed a new chairman to TFI, I felt a little freer to assume this responsibility”.

Interviewer: “Why are you so interested in vaccines and vaccination?

Prof Nkrumah “Because of my per­sonal interest, and my academic interest, in child health issues. Obviously, immunisation is one of the simplest and one of the most cost-effective ways of preventing childhood morbidity and mortality…

”I had been as­sociated with MVP prior to my being appointed chairman of PAG because I had been also a member of the clinical advisory group, which is an international body that reviewed in detail the clinical development plans of this project….

Meningococcal A is the major problem still, causing periodic large epidem­ics, and if we could address that very quickly, let’s say, within the next 10 years, eliminate it as a public health problem, we would have achieved a lot. This being said, we need to make sure that we have very sensitive surveillance systems that can predict if the epide­miology of the disease in any way changes, or is affected by a mass use of a conjugate vaccine.

I am sure that even­tually we shall have conjugate vaccines covering the major strains. But at the moment, I think we should concentrate on eliminating [serogroup] A disease.” Needless to say, Prof. Nkrumah’s involvement in solving these crucial medical predicaments, received no publicity in his own country.

He was born to Dr Kwame Nkrumah and Madam Fanny Miller, who hailed from El­mina in the Central Region. Dr Nkrumah met Miss Miller while teaching at a middle school in Amissano, near Elmina. I met Prof. Nkrumah in 1958, in the home of Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s Advisor on African Affairs, Mr George Padmore.

I mistook him for the “son” of George Padmore! I never got to know the truth at that time, for I Was too discreet to make too many detailed enquiries about people in those days, when I was a “baby” journalist!

Despite their extremely warm relationship, I later got to know that “Francis” (as Padmore called him to my hearing) was not Padmore’s son. That great writer and journalist actual­ly had a daughter, whom he named as “Blyden” – after another formidable Africanist scholar and intellectual, who inspired both Padmore and Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

Having been in the company of his own socialist father as well as the humanist, George Padmore, in his youthful days, I am not at all surprised that Dr Francis Nkrumah cared so much about the health of Africans, especial­ly young Africans, for so long. May he rest in peace.

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