…Encounter with Dr. Felix Anyah, Ghanaian behind Holy Trinity Spa, West Africa’s largest medical farm
…I founded Holy Trinity Spa and health farm with loan of less than 3 USD
By Fred Iwenjora
Visitors to Holy Trinity spa and health farm currently ranked as West Africa’s largest health farm according to international medical hospitality ratings get enchanted at the inspiration behind it.
They also leave with words of commendation for the founder of such a magnificent and sprawling medical resort in the heart of west Africa.
Located on a serene and expansive complex on the banks of the Volta River on Sogakope, Ghana, Holy Trinity spa and health farm in confluence with the mother hospital, Holy Trinity Hospital provides for its guests full scale medical and dental services, optical, diagnostic, pathological and a special department for alternative medicine amongst others.
It also combines this with tremendous hospitality as there are exquisitely furnished suites some of which are detached and others standing on high storey.
As well groomed courteous guide takes the visitor on a tour of the magnificent resort one is awed by the ambience. It boasts of all courts for all games like soccer, basket ball, squash racket, well equipped gyms, a swimming pool and a zoo, a kit of white pigeons, a colony of white rabbits, a pride of different species of peacocks, a congregation of crocodiles as well as a 46 -year- old tortoise. They all get excited in warm welcome.
It took a boat ride on the Volta River to remove all doubts as to how and why Holy Trinity spa has become a destination of choice for Africans in need of integrated medical care since it was opened in 2005. The panoramic view is gripping.
I couldn’t but engage the founder Dr Felix Anyah when he sauntered into the river side bar on his inspiration and how his mega dream is being realized. And he made several shocking revelations.
First was that his famed medical empire, Holy Trinity Medical center, Accra and by extension the Spa and health farm in Sogakope was founded on a loan of an equivalent of less than 3 USD. Unbelievable!
Second is that his five years of living and working in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country positively affected his psyche in many pleasant ways.
Many know you as Ghana’s top CEO..how do you feel about this accolade?
I feel good about this and it spurs me to want to do more to really be comfortable with that tag. Those who gave me the award said I had contributed to the growth of Ghana’s health care system with activities of Holy Trinity Hospital Accra. I agree with them but the award humbles me as I am talking to you right now. I continue to be grateful to God for this and many other honors.
I have toured the place and wonder how you came about the idea of setting up this health farm? What do you hope to achieve?
Let me put it this way. The foundation upon which Holy Trinity Spa and Health Farm is built is based on my understanding of the World Health Organisation definition of health in 1947 and 1961 when WHO started looking at health in a very comprehensive holistic manner which did not have to be only physical but to also be seen in mental, emotional, social and spiritual well being.
Every health institutions all over the world only look at physical diseases which is not what WHO defines ill health to be. Ill health is a physical, mental, social dysfunction. Most of our health facilities only speak to physical aspects of ill health. They are only looking at curing and not preventing or promoting awareness. We can see that almost all psychiatric wards in our hospitals are isolated and stand far from the other wards. It stigmatizes the victim already. Why should this be so? No one talks about spiritual ill health or social ill health.
So in summary what we are doing at Holy Trinity is proving that ill health should be tackled in a holistic way and not what evolution of science has made it to be. Here we look at the broad spectrum of ill health from physical which is mostly handled at the medical center in Accra, the health promotion and disease prevention and rehabilitation, some aspects of social, emotional, spiritual curing are also done here at the Spa and Heath Farm. So in all there is also rehabilitation from physical and psychological substance abuse like weed, cocaine, and a host of other forms including Kleptomania, depression etc .
This sounds very interesting…
We are organised in a manner other medical systems are not. Before now, hospitals consisted of one big ward harbouring all the patients but not now as we have VIP, VVIP wards aside from the accident and emergency wards.
In the past we had no TV in the wards but not now. You can see that medicine is loosening up and no longer where you perceive the smell of Dettol and Izal. Today, it is difficult to differentiate between a hospital and a hotel because the world of medicine is gradually realizing that what a sick individual needs is a place where his dignity is acknowledged, where his social standing as well as his expectation and well being is factored into what we call service delivery.
So if you have a VVIP ward in Ghana or in Nigeria as in elsewhere then there is everything. A middle class person is not expected in the general ward. If you have to look into the broad spectrum of health, then there is need for an environment of serenity. It draws people to a certain functional level for healing to take place.
How did you arrive at a decision to set up this expansive medical tourist community?
You can’t stop an idea whose time has come. When I was health columnist for Ghana’s most popular news paper; Mirror, I answered health questions from all over Ghana every week. These diverse questions from the people told me that the normal orthodox medicine and hospitals did not answer all the health questions that came. I found out that the system was very narrow. For eleven years, we were bringing to the fore all that the readers and WHO wanted.
Several forms of ill health. I was already running Holy Trinity Hospital at the time where I found out that sick people were also getting answers from traditional hospitals and even from the churches. You also found others using herbs though they were not regulated. It told me that people are not getting solutions only from normal hospitals. Some go to churches for solutions. So I started thinking.
The choice of this location must have been deliberate?
When I had made up my mind to set up a Spa, I started looking for a serene atmosphere, a holistic natural environment full of flowers. I was looking for a mountain top, forest or river bank and a more cheerful and happy location. I traveled to Aburi to find a place where I would be looking at the sea. I tried to get a place from where you could have a view of the sea but I soon realized that the sea salt could be damaging to property like air conditioners etc.
When I tried the forest I found out that mosquitoes and reptiles will be difficult to contain. I was left with a riverside where I do not have to worry about reptiles. I was able to get this place at Sogakope on the Volta River. You see I come from Sogakope despite that I never lived here. My mother’s great grand father was royalty. I could be referred as a royal but I am not because of tradition.
Could you recall any turning points in your life and career as a medical doctor?
I wrote my newspaper column between 1990 and 2001. In 1999. I was honored with an award for excellence in the private sector in health care by the Chattered Institute of Marketing, Ghana. That award really pushed me to push up. I asked myself whether I really merited the award. I asked myself whether I was really doing enough as the Institute said. It spurred me. I was a member of the Ghana Health regulatory body for ten years (2000-2010) and in 2009, I was pushed to really look at the medical curriculum in Ghana which was all based on pathology.
In 2002, I started travelling around the world to see alternatives and confirm my thoughts. I was in the US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal. I was looking at hospitals in natural environment where it is serene, where people are very friendly and you could see nature very strongly. I felt we should also look at ill health without sicknesses.
I ended up at Bangkok where I saw Spa in the real sense of the very word. In fact the Spa and health farm business is more developed in Thailand than in any place I have been to. I realized that the world is drifting from a physical disease setting to an ill health setting where you have everything in the hospital in combination with tourism attractions. That is what we are doing here in Ghana.
The word Spa and health farm has been grossly misunderstood and misused? Do you agree with me?
The modern day evolution of what has become Spa is a beautiful and relaxed place devoted to health from the broad definition of health with middle class customers’ needs and expectations integrated to it. Integrated medicine is one of the latest inclusions into international medicine.
My first daughter is specializing in integrated and family medicine which is a combination of orthodox, complimentary, alternative, prevention and promotion and curative as well as rehabilitation.
Pioneering a change especially in the highly regulated medical industry in Africa comes with its own challenges; how have you coped with the seeming misunderstanding of the concept of medical tourism in Africa?
I must tell you that setting up Holy Trinity Spa has posed great challenges but we have been surmounting and continue to surmount them. It is very difficult for people to really understand what we are about at Holy Trinity Spa and Health Farm.
We have faced several government agencies who were at a loss as to how to categorise us.
Persecution by government agencies continued until I engaged my lawyers to seek justice in the law courts. A case went on for two years and I won.
Another issue is that of disbelief by Africans that nothing good ever comes out of Africa. I wanted them to note that we have a standard health complex where many health matters are taken care of in Ghana. Must we go to Europe or Asia for every ailment?
What we have here in Ghana is a Spa and health farm, a hospital served in the highest form of relationship with hospitality. I say it is the biggest in West Africa that people no longer have to travel as far as India to get authentic medical treatment. Africa has four of the world’s renowned cardiovascular surgeons; One from Nigeria, another from Ghana, one from Kenya and one from South Africa.
Ghana has one liver surgeon. You could see that Africa has several micro specialists in medical profession. We only need to harness them with strong government policies and this takes conscious efforts at driving steadily towards excellence.
You seem to have this inclination to Nigeria. Suites in the resort are Nigerian names and cities and you have Nigerian Restaurant too. Now tell me more about your stay in Nigeria ..did it in any way influence your life and business?
I can answer yes in a very positive way. Two things took me to Nigeria. To work for two years, save money and buy a car. When I completed medical school at Korle bu, there were always strikes over accommodation and all other demands by doctors. I hated strikes because I do not believe that a doctor should go on strike. It did not make sense to me at all. I do not think that money should be the determinant factor in my humanitarian professional services as a doctor. My determinant factor is that it is God that pays me. I won’t go on strike because they say there is no money to pay me.
I recall one of those cases vividly well when I was a House officer at Korle bu. There was a strike action and it was raining heavily. A taxi had driven to the flat to drop a passenger. When I waved at the driver to take me he snubbed me and zoomed off. I thought to myself that he must have hated to carry those ‘wicked doctors’ who care less about the sick and go on strike.
Interestingly, I also found myself at the Polytechnic same day and encountered almost same situation. In that case I was even part of the skeletal service being organized with nurses to take care of patients as doctors were off work. Yet another taxi snubbed me. A few days later, I traveled to Takoradi and it also happened. That was when I concluded that I needed a car. Those disappointments were the signs.. Again the one of the ways to get a car was to go to Nigeria. And for me to travel to Nigeria, I had to first take a wife. I started spreading the news amongst friends and family that I needed a wife and the qualities of my would-be wife. I wanted a wife with a high sense of humor. I found her on June 10, 1981. At first she was cold, dull and shy and I resolved to return her to our mutual friend who recommended her but she quickly warmed up sooner than I thought enough to convince me by June 30th of 1981 that I had a wife. It was on September 26 that we had our engagement and wedding was on October 5 1981. In all it took three months or more of meeting to get married to my wife.
And then I was off to Lagos, Nigeria on 7th of October 1981, two days after my wedding. Dramatic you might say.
I had been visiting my younger sister who lived in Ketu Lagos before then. There was a hospital nearby where I went and introduced myself on one of my visits. I would usually help the doctor out whenever I visited. The Doctor had also visited me in Ghana when I served at Takoradi asking me to join him in Lagos. I decided that I would go give him some two years, earn and save up money to buy a car and then return to Ghana. I bought the car after years of service with him but I ended up spending more years working in several hospitals in Lagos. I must say that my stay in Nigeria influenced me in many ways than one. That is why you see our suites and chalets bearing Lagos, Ikeja, Jos, etc
What can you recall of your early years as a medical entrepreneur with a medical empire worth billions?
A few years after I returned to Accra from Nigeria, I started thinking about setting up my own hospital despite that I knew I had no cash. Aje pako like me (genera laughter). However my vision was clear. I took a loan of 65 cedi from the bank in 1988. My father did not have a house to be used as the required collateral except a mud house in the village so I had to link up with someone who asked his brother to go with me to Agric Development Bank with documents of their property. He later took away 30 cedi as agency fees maybe leaving me with 35 cedi in all.
Today 65 cedi amounts to about $3. In fact it is less than $3. And to also imagine that I finally got 35 cedi to first of all set up Holy Trinity Hospital Accra and to later in 2005 add the Spa and health farm in Sogakope is the marvelous story of my life. This singular investment later became the leader in health sector in Ghana to the glory of God, quoted among the best 100 companies in Ghana since 2003 and leader of the health sector since 2009. I like your word medical empire(hahahahahah)
Are there things you have learnt about life?
Life has taught me plenty. One of life’s lessons is that except God builds a house, laborers are laboring in vain. It is about me being a vessel that God wants to use to do a new thing. For this reason I do not feel I own anything. I feel I am holding it in trust for God who has given me good colleagues who cooperate to see that things are running well. If not how could a loan of 35 cedi turn into what we are currently talking about?
Again life has taught me to see myself as a maverick to whom there is no straight jacket ways of doing things. You may fail by trying to put me into a certain group. As a science student, I was entertainment prefect at Opoku Ware school Ghana where I did Upper Six. Now I may not be able to dance like I did back then. People rarely know me when they see me in public. When I was CMD at Korle Bu, few knew I was the boss.
Life has also taught me philanthropy. I am a good supporter of worthy causes. I have done so much donation to different causes, assisted many with their studies, randomly paid school fees anonymously for several others, bought cycles for several physically challenged and adopted a Home for the Physically challenged in Karneshi, Ghana . Members still get free medical services since I adopted them in 1989. For the one year I was CMD at Korle Bu, I opted to forfeit my salaries and allowances.