Mr Labram M. Musah, the Coordinator of the Ghana Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (GhNCDA), has called for equal access to comprehensive health care and treatment services for People Living with NCDs (PLNCDs).
He said “Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are not just a human health issue, but a social epidemic,” because treatment warranted a huge cost that extended beyond health, to undermining workforce productivity and economic prosperity of the country.
Achieving equal access would require the removal of the major barriers for sustained care and treatment to ensure quality in health service delivery for all and that was why the cost of treatment of NCDs must be covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), he said.
Mr Musah, addressing the media launch of the Ghana Advocacy Agenda of People Living with NCDs in Accra, said the country’s biggest killer disease cannot be ended without the active involvement of People Living with NCDs (PLNCDs).
He said Ghana cannot afford to exclude NCDs from its national health and development agendas, due to the growing rate of NCDs involving mainly cancers, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes, which currently accounted for 94,000 of preventable deaths each year.
The Ghana Advocacy Agenda had been developed by the GhNCDA, which is a network of NGOs working in diverse areas of health and development, in consultation with over 100 PLNCDs and other key health stakeholders, to strengthen the NCD response at the national, regional and local levels.
It would also serve as a guide for civil society, and empower PLNCDs to demand action from decision makers, urge them to meet global and national NCD commitments, and to put people first.
It further called for the availability of comprehensive services for early detection, diagnosis, treatment, psychological and rehabilitative and palliative care for PLNCDs.
Mr Musah acknowledged the crucial role that PLNCDs must play in policy making if “we are to turn back an epidemic that is ripping communities apart and forcing them to endure catastrophic, out of pocket health expenditures”.
He said promoting healthy diets, physical activity, alcohol, tobacco control and combating air pollution through cost effective measures were critical to reducing premature death and disabilities from NCDs.
“We also know that we could save 22,000 lives annually if we implemented the WHO Best Buys of prevention and control of NCDs, but to get there we need the meaningful involvement of People Living with NCDs in the rollout of policy”.
Mr Musah said it was sad that although NCDs were preventable, it had negatively impacted families and communities by disabling and cutting short lives, impoverishing families, and fueling stigma and discrimination.
He explained that PLNCDs were often discriminated against in terms of access to service such as education, information, participation and employment opportunities, and in addition to human suffering, economies bore the brunt of NCDs as they posed a massive burden on national resources.
Giving key highlights of the Ghana Advocacy Agenda, Mr Joshua Makubu, who is a person Living with disability and a key advocate, said it was anchored on four pillars namely: Human Rights and Social Justice; Prevention; Treatment, Care and Support; and Meaningful Involvement, which were closely interrelated, and achieving progress on one would necessitate progress on all others.
“We can only put a dent in the NCD epidemic when we confront head-on, the ignorance and misconception around them by giving voice to those people most impacted by, and living with non-communicable diseases,” he said.
Mr Makubu said PLNCDs had the right to participate in the decision-making process that affected their lives, and needed the enforcement of laws to protect their communities and ensure access to high quality of care as part of the attainment of the Universal Health Coverage and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
He said making further headway would require massive support from all angles, to change the mindset of people around NCDs, intensifying public awareness campaigns especially in schools by including topics on NCDs in the curricula, which should also be supported by tougher enforcement of “No Smoking laws and tobacco advertising”.
Again the enactment of legislation that mandated the display of food content labels and the implementation of globally recommended taxes on products such as sugary drinks, he said.
Mr Alexander Kwadwo Kon Abban, the Deputy Minister of Health, admitted that though Ghana had made some progress on strengthening policy response to NCDs, which had translated to services on the ground, but implementation of these national laws and policies remained weak.
“The Ministry is making NCD prevention and controls a key priority and will ensure that the draft National NCD Policy is completed and adopted according to the deadline”.
He explained that implementation of NCDs policies in years gone had been a huge challenge, but assured Ghanaians of the readiness of the government to the task, and that “this policy which places people at the heart of the response, will when ready, get the full support from the Ministry for effective implementation”.
Dr Owen Laws Kaluwa, the WHO Country Representative in a speech read on his behalf, said NCDs kills approximately 40 million people globally each year, accounting for 70 per cent of all deaths, and about 15 million of these were people between the ages of 30 and 69 years.
He called for the institution of stronger national health systems that emphasized on integrated care, particularly at the primary healthcare level were imperative to reducing the burden of NCDs, and called for multi-sectoral collaboration and cooperation in ensuring prevention, treatment and care services alongside financial risk protection across the continuum of care available for a wide group of diseases for the poorest and most vulnerable populations.