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Safeguarding Ghana’s future against pandemics through public health emergency fund

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Minister for Health, Hon. Kwaku Agyeman-Manu

Infectious diseases have had adverse effects on humans all around the globe through the years.

Diseases such as yellow fever, meningitis, Cholera, Monkey Pox, Ebola, Covid-19, and so many
others have historically manifested themselves in Ghana and some parts of the world while
negatively impacting lives and economies.

In Ghana, for instance, cases of epidemic or disease outbreaks date back to the first outbreak of the ‘Influenza Epidemic in 1918-1919 then Gold Coast and a study by KD Patterson revealed approximately 100,000 Ghanaians were killed within six months.

The Influenza of 1918 became an opportune time for countries such as Ghana to prepare for future outbreaks.

The colonialist during this time did not support effective strategies and efforts to reduce the
spread of the disease at a faster pace since colonial masters and Europeans paid more attention to their countries of origin in terms of protecting lives and or curbing the spread of the diseases.

Hence, Ghana encountered health personnel and financial challenges due to a lack of political and moral conscience to prepare adequately for outbreaks.

Not much has changed since Ghana gained independence.

As a developing country, Ghana has had its fair share of outbreaks and its fighting outbreaks has consistently remained same-knee Jacked.

Although Ghana has a health security plan, very little effort has been made to finance and support the health security plan which includes the establishment of a Public Health Emergency Fund

In the last three years, there have been seasonal reports of meningitis in Ghana generally during the dry periods of October to March. 

During these dry periods with relatively low humidity and an abundance of dust, individuals become susceptible to meningitis infection.

Meningitis is somewhat endemic in the three northern regions of Ghana. Other regions have had their fair share of epidemic diseases, including Measles and yellow fever.

However, the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 further exposed Ghana’s lack of preparedness when the country recorded its first case on March 12th, 2020.

During the outbreak, the Minister of Health Kwaku Agyemang-Manu informed Ghanaians the Covid-19 recorded in Ghana was imported by two foreigners from Turkey and Norway.

This was the beginning of Ghana’s woes regarding the pandemic because Ghana was not spared of the enormous negative effects of Covid-19 as the disease spread and affected thousands of Ghanaians.

Again, Ghana was caught off guard with little to no preparedness plan in place before we recorded our first case even though other countries had recorded cases.

This goes to show very few structures have been put in place to fight outbreaks pre- and post-colonial Ghana. There have not been many talks on preparedness financing to control the natural occurrences of diseases. Covid-19 as a case study proves this fact.

The pandemic exposed the unpreparedness of Ghana and other developing countries to combat infectious diseases. The government of Ghana had to rely on international aid and borrowings to provide basic healthcare services and relief materials to citizens.

So far, Ghana has received significant financial support from both the World Bank and international donors to help combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April 2020 alone, the World Bank approved a $100 million emergency support package to Ghana to help the country respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to the World Bank’s support, Ghana also received financial assistance from other international donors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union, and the United Nations.

These funds were used to improve healthcare infrastructure, provide protective equipment for healthcare workers, and support social protection programs for the most vulnerable in society.

In essence, the lack of adequate funding for epidemic preparedness and response can have devastating effects on the healthcare system and the economy of a country.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the world that the need for epidemic preparedness financing cannot be overemphasized.

The more reason Ghana needs to establish a Public Health Emergency Fund is to curb the sporadic outbreak of diseases in Ghana.

This will provide funds to finance epidemic preparedness, response, and control activities in the country.

It will strengthen the health system, improve surveillance and monitoring systems, and enhance laboratory capacities. These activities will help to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases in Ghana.

In addition, the fund will support research activities that will help to develop vaccines and drugs for epidemic diseases in Ghana.

This will help to reduce the reliance on imported drugs and vaccines and promote the local development of health technologies.

Furthermore, the fund will contribute to and improve the capacity of healthcare workers to respond to epidemics, establish or improve testing and treatment facilities, provide medical supplies and equipment, and support vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic.

Recently, there have been a lot of controversies surrounding the use of the Covid-19 fund.

This is because some institutions and citizens at large believe the government has failed to utilize the fund for its intended purpose thus, advocating for its removal.

According to International Budget Partnership, there were inconsistencies in Covid-related budget implementation by the government in the Mid-year Budget Review and 2021 Budget Statement.

The recent Auditor General’s Report on the misappropriation of funds mobilized by the government of Ghana to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and the gross misapplication of the fund call for immediate attention to the establishment of a permanent Public Health Emergency Fund.

To have a sustainable source of funds for health emergencies and to ensure transparency and accountability in its management and utilization, citizens through a petition have called on the government of Ghana to convert and rename the National Covid-19 Trust Fund to Public Health Emergency Fund while using the Covid-19 levy as a source of funding or revenue to the fund.

It has become apparent that government considers the decision to establish the Public Health Emergency fund to help minimise the strains outbreaks bring on the good citizens of this country.

Imagine Ghana has already established a Public Health Emergency Fund, the new Lassa Fever which has already been claimed would be prevented.

Time is of the essence here since we do not know when the next outbreak might happen. We, therefore, call on the government to keep the well-being of its citizens at heart and not wait to be deviled by disease outbreaks to do something about it.

The establishment of the Public Health Emergency Fund is a step in the right direction in securing Ghana’s future against disease threats of all kinds.

This is the time the Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service, Ghana Medical Association, NGOs, and all other Health sector stakeholders must act fast!

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