Healthcare in Ghana
Healthcare in Ghana has many levels to it. There are three primary levels: national, regional and district. Within these, there are different types of providers: health posts, health centers/clinics, district hospitals, regional hospitals and tertiary hospitals. On average, Ghana spends 6% of its gross domestic product on healthcare, and the quality of healthcare varies by region. Here are four facts about healthcare in Ghana.

4 Facts About Healthcare in Ghana

  1. Ghana has a public insurance system. In 2003, Ghana made the switch from the “cash and carry” system to public insurance. The “cash and carry” health system required patients to pay for their treatments before receiving care. Because of this process, few people were able to afford treatment. In response, the government established the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). This system provides wide coverage, covering 95% of the diseases that affect Ghana. The coverage includes treatment for malaria, respiratory diseases, diarrhea and more. Between 2006 and 2009, the proportion of the population registered to NHIS increased by 44%
  2. Child mortality rates have decreased. Data from 2019 showed that 50 out of 1000 babies die before the age of five. While this may appear unsettling at first, the twice as high a few decades earlier. In low-income communities, there is a higher risk of death because of limited access to healthcare. To help prevent this, the NHIS provides maternity care, including cesarean deliveries. In the 1990s, Dr. Ayaga Bawah began a study to provide healthcare in rural areas to see if it would decrease mortality rates. Between 1995 and 2005, the study showed that when qualified nurses were working in communities, there was an equal distribution of child mortality throughout the country, rather than mostly in rural communities.
  3. Access to health services has increased. In rural communities, health posts are the primary healthcare providers. A 2019 study found that 81.4% of the population had access to primary healthcare in Ghana, while 61.4% have access to secondary-level, and 14.3% to tertiary care. Despite these relatively high rates of accessibility, approximately 30% of the population has to travel far to access primary facilities or see a specialist. To increase access to services, Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, stated in June 2020 that he intended to build 88 more district hospitals.
  4. More and more scientists are being trained. Throughout Africa, scientists are being trained to improve research and the dissemination of information. The World Economic Forum has pushed for research in programs such as Human Health and Heredity in Africa. This program is dedicated to helping local institutes manage the diseases and conditions that affect its area. Another group, H3-D, trains scientists in many African countries, including Ghana, to focus on conditions that are prevalent in Africa, such as malaria, tuberculosis and cardiovascular disease.

These four facts about healthcare in Ghana illuminate the progress that has been made, as well as the work that still needs to be done. While healthcare has improved, the government must take more steps to increase accessibility for all throughout the country. With a continued focus on healthcare, Ghana will hopefully continue to provide more communities with health services.

Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in GhanaFor Ghanaian students enjoying Empower Playgrounds, Inc.’s (EPI) merry-go-rounds, scrapes, cuts and bruises are shrugged off with a laugh. However, treating medical emergencies like malaria infection, especially in rural areas, is no laughing matter.

EPI, A nonprofit organization based in Ghana, operates in remote locations where electricity is almost nonexistent, and medical centers are extremely scarce. By building playgrounds that generate electricity, EPI prioritizes children’s entertainment as much as their health and education.

The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak with Ben Markham, the founder of EPI, about healthcare in Ghana. According to Markham, when a student falls extremely ill at school, a teacher will accompany the student to the nearest trained nurse, if one exists. The student and teacher will often travel by foot out of town, and if the medical emergency is severe, the teacher will leave the student at the facility and walk back to the community to inform the child’s parents.

Fortunately, healthcare in Ghana is transitioning to include more technology and communication channels. With substantial telehealth investment injected into rural Ghanaian towns, these communities stand a chance to receive basic health supplies and on-demand medical attention through telehealth methods.

Telemedicine is More Accessible Than In-Person Visits

In response to COVID-19, Ghana’s Ministry of Health proposed to open 94 new hospitals across the country between 2020 to 2021. In a statement addressed to the nation, Ghanaian president Akufo-Addo said that the pandemic exposed “the deficiencies of the healthcare system,” casting blame towards under-investment. So how will the addition of more hospitals benefit areas outside of the country’s municipalities?

Lack of basic healthcare in Ghana stands as a serious issue in the non-urban areas of the country. Nearly half (49 percent) of Ghanaians live in rural communities, and many communities lack a central facility and have a shortage of medical professionals. The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has partnered with various entities to solve this problem on the ground.

For example, Community-Based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) trains volunteers to provide health services in rural communities. Additionally, GHS has partnered with Novatoris Foundation to develop teleconsultant centers. These centers allow community nurses, who usually lack equipment and staff, to speak with urban nurses over the phone when medical urgencies arise, such as childbirth.

Within the last ten years, healthcare in Ghana has seen emerging interest and attention directed toward telehealth. When the first teleconsultant centers opened in 2011, 60 percent of calls were maternity-related, mainly due to the fact that the majority of maternal mortality occurred in rural areas. In effect, telemedicine became an avenue of investment to bridge spatial and temporal gaps for remote Ghanaians.

Vodafone Proves to be a Major Player in Ghanaian Health

Among technologies and assets helping Ghanaians stay informed about their health, the cellular company Vodafone stands out.

The company has partnered with Ghana’s healthcare industry through its philanthropic arm, Vodafone Ghana Foundation. In 2019, the foundation cleared the medical debts of 180 Ghanaian patients who had been discharged yet detained due to outstanding hospital bills. Upon settlement, all 180 former patients were released from detention. In 2018, the company partnered with the central government to monitor epidemics, specifically targeting the Ebola virus, by aggregating heat maps from customers’ GPS movements. They are doing the same with coronavirus today.

In the spring of 2020, as the novel coronavirus moved into Ghana, Vodafone stepped in to dispel misinformation. The Vodafone Healthline Medical Centers, call centers equipped with medical experts, expanded services to include representatives who communicate in a variety of local languages including Ga, Twi, Fante, Ewe and Hausa.

Managing Expectations

Markham and his staffers know of telemedicine services, but they remain skeptical. Cellular signal breaks up where cell towers are not present, and towers can often be 32 kilometers outside of a remote community. In addition, many Ghanaians turn their cell phones off to save battery, since many of them are still powered with AA batteries rather than chargers. Cell phone credits are also considered precious, leading to many people turning their devices off to save unused credits. All these factors could inhibit the ability of telemedicine to improve healthcare in Ghana.

However, Markham feels optimistic about the role that technology can play in providing health services to rural-based Ghanaians. He believes grassroots efforts, such as the Community-Based Health Planning and Services, should continue to expand at the same rate as telehealth and tech-based health initiatives.

– Victoria Colbert
Photo: Empower Playgrounds, Inc.

In recent years, researchers, doctors and health organizations have begun to target the high rate of pneumonia deaths. As one of the largest causes of death in children, pneumonia and researchers’ search for its solutions have not been taken lightly. The Ghana Health Service and partner GAVI, supported by UNICEF, launched vaccines to combat the infection in 2012.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a bacterial, fungal or viral infection of the air-sacs in one’s lung or lungs, usually caused by the inhalation of specific or diseased germs. The infection causes fluid build up in the lungs, difficulty breathing, high fever, sweating, chills, chest pain and discoloration of fingertips. The best way to treat this infection is through immunizations and antibiotics.

Historically, pneumonia has been the leading cause of death in those under-five years old. Steps have occurred to decrease death rates from year-to-year, but yet unfortuantely, the number of deaths and the percentage of children lost to pneumonia is still staggering.

What Are the Impacts of Pneumonia?

In the year 2010 alone, pneumonia caused the deaths of 16,200 children, and the total number of deaths brought about because of pneumonia was a reported 13 percent. Subsequently, this percentage remained consistent between the years 2000 and 2010, and the percentage of deaths at the hands of this infection remained between twelve and thirteen percent, without substantial improvement.

Despite the decade-long absence of progress in pneumonia prevention and treatment, advancements have started taking place in more recent years. In April 2012, UNICEF supported the Ghana Health Service and partner GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, in launching pneumonia and diarrhea vaccines and the first ever World Immunization Week. The introduction of these vaccines to Ghana was a monumental step towards decreasing fatalities.

Ghana Health Service and its Aid

Although the establishment of vaccinations was a large logistical undertaking — including increasing hospital refrigeration storage in all ten regions of Ghana — the children of the country have benefited greatly from such measures. Pneumonia, for the first time ever in 2013, was not the leading cause of death for those under-five, though it was still the second-largest cause. Consequently, the total percentage of pneumonia causing fatalities decreased by 44 percent by 2015.

The installation of the pneumonia vaccine to Ghana has helped combat the vast amount of children who are annually impacted by the infection; however, there is still much progress to be made. As of 2017, UNICEF worked diligently to decrease pneumonia cases through fighting poor sanitation and open defecation.

How to Create Sustainable Solutions

To combat such massive undertakings, the organization implemented latrines and water pumps to as many communities as possible. Many have poured great effort into this ‘war against pneumonia’ and the Ghana Health Service, but measures must increase for significant and permanent changes to be sustained.

– Lydia Lamm

Photo: Flickr

mental healthcare in ghanaGhana’s healthcare system deals with many obstacles relating to disease and discrimination. The West African country faces many diseases common in Africa, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, which plagues some of its 27 million population. It is the poor access to mental healthcare in Ghana, though, that has set it apart from its sub-Saharan neighbors.

A 2012 study showed that the Ghanaian government spent $0.12 per capita for mental health treatment. This is less than half of the average expenditure of other lower-middle income countries. It is roughly two percent of spending toward mental healthcare by upper-middle-income countries.

Challenges to Mental Healthcare in Ghana

Unfortunately, a lack of spending is not the only hindrance to receiving adequate mental healthcare in Ghana. A number of other challenges have prevented Ghanaians from receiving help, including a lack of qualified professionals. A scant 18 psychiatrists practiced in Ghana in 2011.

The number of mental healthcare outpatient clinics is far greater. However, the majority of these clinics are located in Accra, Ghana’s capital. Rural areas of the country have far fewer resources, such as the Ashanti region. There are only 12 outpatient services available to its population of 4.8 million.

Introducing the Mental Health Act

The international recognition regarding poor mental healthcare in Ghana forced the country to look more closely at its practices. To this end, Ghana introduced the 2012 Mental Health Act.

The goals of the scheduled 5-year plan were to create a baseline to ensure quality reform and to compare it to the performance of other countries. The poor access to treatment in rural areas of Ghana was also addressed. Programs were initiated to bring awareness of mental health programs and resources all over the country.

With the support of the World Health Organization, the Mental Health Act implemented previously ignored practices. Furthermore, it ensured the rights of people with mental disabilities. Mental health in Ghana has always been highly stigmatized, and the Act sought to create anti-discrimination provisions and safeguards for the vulnerable.

In the years since the approval of the Mental Health Act, Ghana has taken a number of steps to increase access to mental healthcare. This has included steps to decentralize programs and integrate them into the general healthcare system. Ghana is also beginning to downsize its three largest psychiatric hospitals in order to spread access to mental healthcare throughout the nation.

Ghana’s mental healthcare system has seen incredible progress. The country recognized the need to transform the highly underfunded and stigmatized system. Now, the system offers patients better access to treatment that is free of discrimination and negative consequences. Challenges remain, but the steps taken to reshape its future have already made a difference to mental healthcare in Ghana.

– Eric Paulsen

Photo: Flickr

Five Things to Know About Healthcare in GhanaGhana, a country in West Africa, gained its independence in 1957 and now has a population of 28.2 million people. Though it has been considered one of the most stable countries in the region since 1992, Ghana still faces issues, one of which is the health of its population.

For men and women in Ghana, the life expectancy at birth is 64 and 66 years, respectively. These life expectancies are both below the global average, which, in 2015, was reported to be 71.4 years when considering both men and women.

Ghana faces a multitude of health issues that affect its population’s life expectancy. Below are five things to know about healthcare in Ghana.

  1. Accra, the country’s capital, is one of the centers of Ghana’s medical system. This city, which is one of the largest cities in Ghana, has a population of about 2 million people. Accra is where the Ghana Health Service is located, thus making it an important city for health in Ghana.
  2. HIV/AIDS is one of the top ten causes of death in Ghana. This virus killed 10,300 people in Ghana in 2012, which was 4.9 percent of the country’s population. At this rate, HIV/AIDS was ranked as the fifth leading cause of death in Ghana, in 2012, by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  3. In 2012, Malaria killed 8.3 percent of Ghana’s population. At this rate, Malaria ranked higher than HIV/AIDS, at number three, in the leading causes of death in Ghana, as reported by the WHO in 2012. When considering children under five, Malaria was the leading cause of death, killing 20 percent of this group in 2012.
  4. As of 2016, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has trained 125 people in Ghana to better monitor and evaluate the spread of infectious diseases. The CDC is working with Ghana to help citizens better recognize, treat and prevent infectious diseases.
  5. The education system for medicine and health in Ghana has improved over the last few decades. Many institutions that focus on educating Ghanaians in medicine have been founded since 1976. The Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons (GCPS), which was founded in 2003, trained approximately 300 residents in 2014.

Though HIV/AIDS and malaria continue to be two of the leading causes of death in Ghana, the country’s work with the CDC and its improved education in medicine have certainly made progress towards improving healthcare in Ghana.

– Haley Rogers

Photo: Flickr