COVID-19: Ghana needs to prepare for epidemics

“Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land,” Ecclesiastes 11:2.

This quotation in the Bible teaches us that planning and saving towards uncertainties is a must in life because no one in the world knows when the unexpected will strike.

The havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which started as a disease outbreak in China in December 2019, has had negative impact on economies of the world and exposed its unpreparedness in combating the unexpected.

The gaps and weakness of the global health system has been exposed and Ghana is no exception.

Recent happenings have shown that around the world, health spending is concentrated on clinical care for individuals and acute care for injury and illnesses, not in preventive measures and preparedness towards epidemics and pandemics.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response says studies have shown that preparedness for public health emergencies is often relegated to the background with much more attention given to the response.

It says very often, public health emergency preparedness plans are found only in books or memos at the central level, with little action at the subnational level.

Funding plan

A funding plan is a document that outlines how to finance an idea. It helps to map out possible methods of income generation, identify potential funders, and plan out funding applications.

Essentially, a funding plan will help Ghana to be in control of income, expenses and investments such that she can manage to save towards uncertainties.

Amidst the current global pandemic, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 established a new $1 billion Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund to assist needy families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization in a concept note on Strengthening the Global Architecture Health Emergency Preparedness Response and Resilience stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed deep inequalities in the global ecosystem for Health Emergency Preparedness, Response and Resilience (HEPR).

It said there is a clear need to build a stronger and more inclusive HEPR architecture so that the world can better prepare for and respond to future outbreaks of diseases with epidemic and pandemic potential.

“The WHO urges all countries to assess and strengthen their readiness and response plans for future wave of transmission, including surveillance, testing strong clinical management and a well-equipped health workforce” it said.

For the past three decades, Ghana has had her fair share of seasonal disease outbreaks before COVID-19.

Infectious diseases such as cholera, cerebrospinal meningitis and influenza type A occur annually but with marked improvement.

Estimates by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and the Health Ministry on cholera, meningitis, influenza cases in Ghana between 1997 and April 2021 show that over 2,551 cases of deaths have occurred and rendered many more sick. These epidemics have revealed the weaknesses in Ghana’s health system, the Covid-19 being a major example.

The country, in 2017, developed the National Action Plan for Health Security (NAPHS); a comprehensive, multi-sectoral, collaborative, and time-framed plan with the objective of strengthening the health system capacities to prevent, detect and respond to all hazards of health emergencies, thereby minimising both the health and economic consequences.

The NAPHS is expected to provide a consolidated insight of baseline national capacities and build on existing mechanisms and processes, ensuring a holistic approach to health emergencies and avoiding duplication and standalone plans.

Dr Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, the Director of Public Health at the GHS, explains that the NHAPS was developed to serve as an internal epidemic preparedness assessment tool as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The NAHPS is supposed to be a guide that will allow Ghana to be more prepared towards pandemics by exploring funding sources in and out of the country.

He said the NAHPS had not been utilised as expected and that Ghana would soon update it to factor in funding for epidemics.

“We have realised that the NHAPS is somehow deficient, and the GHS intends to upgrade it based on lessons from COVID-19 to factor the response to a pandemic, because the impact of a global pandemic like COVID-19 was not considered when it was being developed,” he said.

Dr Asiedu-Bekoe said the GHS would evaluate Ghana’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to further serve as a guide on how to improve on the NHAPS and how to properly fund Epidemics.

“One thing I want to say is that, when it comes to public health emergency financing, it also depends on the level of the event, if we have a smaller outbreak in a district, we expect the district itself to handle the response with support from local Non-Governmental Organisations” he said.

He explained that in times past, financial support to response to epidemic in Ghana had come from development partners like the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Education Fund (UNICEF) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) but global pandemics like the COVID-19, which is now a battle to the whole world, needs the dominance of the Government because it entails extensive investments.

“I think what we need to do as a country regarding epidemic financing is to earmark funds for public health emergencies, that is the way we can be reassured to properly address such unforeseen situations,” he said.

“We have had funding challenges as a country when it comes to epidemic financing but again the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) was set up to gather and assure funding for emergencies and in Ghana we are gradually upgrading the EOC to have the needed resources, funds, the workforce and logistics to respond to epidemics”.

Dr Asiedu-Bokoe noted that GHS is positioning itself to tackle public health as an investment – one sure way for the nation to get and sustain funding for epidemics, adding that Ghana will yield to calls from the African Union for all countries to set up an Emergency Fund.

He said although Ghana had not been progressive with preparation towards epidemics, its response to public health emergencies had been effective over the years.

According to him, the Government is putting in place measures to earmark funds for emergencies, and this will pave way for a national discussion on how much should be set aside to fund epidemics.

On March 11, 2020, President Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo- Addo in his first broadcast on the Covid-19 pandemic to the nation, said Ghana had secured a total of $100 million loan from the World Bank to fund the overall national preparedness towards the pandemic.

The country’s first step was to seek international support, and this reemphasizes the need for Ghana to prepare to address issues independently.

Again, the President announced the establishment of a COVID-19 Fund to be managed by an independent board of trustees headed by former Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo to support the public, the vulnerable, and private businesses.

As of July 21, 2020, a total of GH¢ 51,346,608.73 cash donations had been made into the COVID-19 Trust Fund, with a sum of GH¢32,581,233.90 disbursed towards preparations and the containment of the pandemic.

This is laudable and must be continued even after the pandemic. It is time for a national discourse on the need for an Epidemic Fund and how much must be allocated to the unforeseen.

Preparing for Epidemics to ensure the health safety of citizens is in line with Article 22 of the which states that, “Everyone as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each state of the economic, social, and cultural rights indispensable for his or her dignity and the free development of his or her personality.

By Linda Naa Deide Aryeetey

Source: GNA

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