Ensuring Ghana’s public health security through epidemic preparedness and response fund
“COVID-19 has shown that when health is at risk, everything is at risk but when health is protected and promoted, it creates a platform for individuals, families, communities, economies and nations to thrive.”— Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO).
It is a common knowledge that people who prepare for a task in advance are more confident, perform better, and experience less stress and anxiety. This, perhaps, underscores the value of preparation in not only helping in achieving success but also in reducing negative emotions associated with uncertainty, particularly in the areas of epidemics or disease outbreaks.
If you are prepared for anything, you will never be surprised or overwhelmed. This is because there are many areas of life where it pays off to be prepared for. What it means is that taking the time to prepare and plan can make a significant difference in your ability to succeed, especially in containing a disease. It is for this reason that I agree with Alexander Graham Bell in his saying that “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”
In our world today where human lives are threatened each day by emerging, recurring and mutational diseases, it is only right for us to prepare ourselves to face any disease threat that may come our way. Failure to do so will only compound our problems and render our healthcare system somehow powerless and less effective.
The impacts of disease outbreaks have far-reaching consequences, including setbacks in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly the Goal Three, which is about “Good health and wellbeing.” Frequent outbreaks of epidemics could reverse gains made in many years of progress in attaining SDG 3.
Epidemic preparedness and response financing has become very critical in the healthcare sector across the globe, strengthening the resilience of healthcare systems and providing escape routes to fighting diseases.
Ghana is not immune to epidemics or disease outbreaks. In fact, between 1998 and 2017, Ghana had recorded 82, 754 cholera cases, including 519 deaths. Similarly, the country continues to record cases in cerebrospinal meningitis, influenza type Aand other infectious diseases almost on yearly basis.
For instance, during thecommemoration of the 2022 International Day of Epidemic Preparedness, SEND Ghana, an NGO, in a statement dated December 27, 2022, urged the government of Ghana to remain committed to its word to establish a PublicHealth Emergency Fund (PHEF) as indicated in the 2022-2025 National Medium Term Development Framework in readiness for future public health threats and, by extension, increase Ghana’s preparedness rating, which currently stands at 45 ???????.
Part of the statement read: “We wish to also call on the government to amend the already existing COVID-19 National Trust Fund established by an Act of Parliament in 2020 (Act 1013) into the PHEF and make revenue from the COVID-19 Recovery Levy, the primary source of funding for the PHEF.”
For SEND Ghana, “Failing to plan for disease outbreaks costs more than having a preparedness plan in place. Therefore, Ghana must prepare for and respond quickly to potential epidemics rather than waiting to act when outbreaks happen.”
It added that “Not preparing adequately could be dangerous for Ghana and strain an already stressed health system and economy,” pointing out that “Preparedness requires a deliberate and concerted effort from the government and all stakeholders.”
Agreeing with the position of SEND Ghana, the Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), DrTedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus, is quoted as saying “true preparedness is not just the work of the health sector; it requires all of government and all of society.”
When epidemic preparedness and response systems are strengthened, disease outbreaks will be detected earlyfor relevant institutions to respond on time to prevent devastating impacts on communities and the country.
Investing in epidemic preparedness not only helps save lives but it also unlocks the social and economic potential of the population. This is because epidemics leave stressed ????????? behind economy and devastated human resource.
In one of his national televised addresses during the peak of the COVID-19, President Nana AddoDankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana once said “the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been devastating, with every aspect of national life affected.” He was right! When epidemics occur, they affect everything.
Public health experts believe that epidemics are inevitable in a rapidly-changing world and, at least, within every five to six years, nations are likely to experience a disease outbreak often leaving devastating consequences on their populations.
Considering the threat of epidemics to the socio-economic life of the world, the WHO and its partners drafted the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) to strengthen countries’ capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to emerging public health threats in a manner that aligns with International Health Regulations requirements.
The GHSA is a global effort to strengthen the world’s ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats.
Even though Ghana in 2018 developed a National Action Plan for Health Security (NAPHS) to adequately prepare and effectively respond to epidemics, funding remains a major challenge, thus threatening the resilience of the country’s epidemic preparedness and response efforts.
Ms. Florence Sakyi is a Public Health specialist who believes that “We must build a country where every citizen is safe from the threats of deadly diseases.”
She insists that,“It is now time to invest in epidemic preparedness”, urging the government to be proactive in its response to fighting disease outbreaks.
For her, adequate funding for epidemic activities would help Ghana to prevent epidemic-associated mortalities.
“Every second counts in the response to infectious disease outbreaks. It is time for the government to fund epidemic preparedness to protect citizens from deadly disease outbreaks,” Ms. Sakyisaid.
She explained that continuous investment in epidemic preparedness “helps safeguard a country’s health security and protect the wellbeing of its citizens.”
In her view, funding epidemic preparedness and response could reduce the impact of unforeseen disease outbreaks, stressing that healthcare must remain a top priority on the national budget “if we want to prepare for all future outbreaks of disease.”
For Ms. Sakyi, scaling up investment in health security is essential to preventing disease outbreaks and saving lives, so she has called on the government to appropriate adequate funding to the Ghana National Action Plan for Health Security to address epidemic preparedness gaps.
According to her, more than 80% of countries, including Ghana, are still reporting one or more disruptions to essential services due to COVID-19, and added that tens of millions had fallen into extreme poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She expressed the fear that the next pandemic could be more catastrophic without greater financial commitments to preparedness, saying,“Now is the time to call on the government to make a greater financial commitment to epidemic preparedness in Ghana.”
Ms. Sakyi said infectious diseases remained a major public health threat in any country and the only way to protect citizens from existing and emerging infectious diseases was to set aside a budget that would help the health systems to effectively respond to such threats.
Commitment from government
During the 2022 Media recognition awards organised by SEND Ghana to honour Ghanaian journalists who had contributed to creating awareness on the need to establish epidemic preparedness and response fund in Ghana, the Chief Executive Officer of SEND West Africa, Mr. Siapha Kamara, said even though the Ghana government committed to “investing about 15 percent of its GDP in the health sector, unfortunately, [over the past] 15 years, the country has not been able to do more than eight percent.”
For him, “If we were investing 15 percent of our GDP in the health sector, we will be able to build the infrastructure, invest in the human resources and strengthen the system.”
He expressed the belief that strengthening the health sector through financial commitment would go a long way to prepare the country adequately to face any future epidemics or disease outbreaks.
“It is only through continuous investment into health that will ensure the country will be well-prepared to better respond to any future epidemic or pandemic that may come,” Mr. Kamaranoted.
Uncertainties call for preparedness
The General Secretary of the Ghana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (GAND), HajiaHamdaratuDaudaWumbei, in an interview, said because no one knew when new epidemics would break out, it was highly necessary to prepare for them.
“We are not calling for any epidemics but these are natural things that, when they happen, we, as a country, readily need to avail our resources to save the populace,” she said.
She explained that when there is any disease outbreak, food and water are very critical but that could be provided only when the country has the purchasing ability.
HajiaWumbeihas, therefore, called on Parliament to pass a law that would ensure the establishment of epidemic preparedness and response fund in Ghana.
“If such a bill is passed and we know we have this amount of money that is dedicated to food and water to take care of these crises, then we are sure that during and after the epidemic,it will give everyone that peace of mind,” she stated.
In addition, she said, “I quite remember when we had the COVID, it was families and communities that were now donating food to their neighbours.”
For HajiaWumbei, lack of food and water for people could even pass as an epidemic, explaining that without a properly-nourished population, any epidemic could cause catastrophic impact on any nation.
She said public health security should be a national security issue and that budgetary allocation to maintaining Ghana’s security should factor in public health threats.
“Public health is a national security issue”, she said, adding that issues like flying in of logistics???????, imposition of curfews, and ensuring compliance during epidemics are a national security matter and as we budget for security agencies, public health security must be a factor if we are to prepare for such emergencies.
As we are threatened by various emerging epidemics, it is time for us to act to protect our lives. Safety, they say, is a small investment for a rich future and I couldn’t agree more with William Butler Yeats, who says, “Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” Ghana must do everything possible to establish epidemic preparedness and response fund.
By Benedicta Gyimaah Folley