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Health News of Thursday, 6 December 2012

Source: The Citizen Newspaper

Stop Politicising Our Health

Ghanaians like politics. Some say we eat politics, breathe politics and clothe politics. Anybody familiar with the political terrain in Ghana will, therefore, not be surprised at our penchant for politicising every fathomable subject that has to do with human existence.

We have politicised energy, water, healthcare, narcotics, security, housing, education, rice, corn. Perhaps, the only thing we’re yet to politicise in this country is whether God is an NDC or NPP sympathiser! Even here, one cannot be really sure.

Sometimes, we conveniently call it the game of politics and spend precious time “blamestorming” instead of brainstorming to get us out of the quagmire of under development and some of the pertinent problems plaguing us as a nation. But for how long shall we continue to trivialise and politicise the very things that border on our existence?

So when the other day, you heard the voices of both the current and past CEOs of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) in the studios of an Accra-based radio station, you thought that listeners would have been treated to how this all-important social protection programme could be enhanced and sustained for generations yet unborn.

Regrettably, this was not to be. Whilst one was of the view that the NHIS was collapsing under the NDC government, the other sought to correct that erroneous impression. In the process, the Ghanaian stakeholder for whom the scheme is a matter of life and death were none the wiser.

Subsequently at the IEA Presidential Debate in Tamale, the flag bearer of the NPP could not have ended without singing a dirge or two to signal that the NHIS, and indeed the entire Ghanaian health sector was in its final death throes. The soft spoken President John Mahama who looked incensed, had swiftly rebutted with an impressive flurry of facts and figures to prove that the NHIS was indeed actively responding to the health needs of the people. And that would form the basis for more rounds of “blamestorming” that will not end any moment soon until hopefully December 2012 has come and gone.

But what really are the issues? Is our NHIS collapsing? We know for a fact that healthcare is a major public concern even in better developed countries like the USA and in the United Kingdom. What is it about Ghana’s insurance scheme that is suddenly stirring passions across the political divide?

In trying to answer this question, one cannot help but wonder why the old lady in my holy village, whose lifeline is the NHIS is no longer so sure about going to hospital since it is being rumoured that health insurance doesn’t work anymore. And of all times, why at this particular period when national elections are just around the corner? Are the politicians doing this because they really care about you and I, or is it just for sheer political sport?

To find out what is really on the ground, this writer armed with pen and notepad, hit the dust in a few communities in Accra, Kumasi and Bolgatanga and came up with the following responses from fellow Ghanaians on how they thought the NHIS was doing. The following responses came up:

• “Regardless of what the ‘politrickers’ say, the NHIS is still the most popular route to affordable healthcare for me and my family” – (Mechanic in Accra).

• “What are they telling us again ... that the NHIS is collapsing? I don’t think so because millions of subscribers, including some of our most vulnerable compatriots cannot be wrong in choosing to go with it” – (Lecturer in a Private University in Accra).

• “Persons under 18 years currently enjoy free access to health insurance, and this group represents almost 50% of registered members as at December 2010” – (Scheme Manager in Kumasi).

• “Last year, my sister who is divorced and jobless enjoyed free maternal care until she delivered my nephew in the Bolga Hospital” (Tomato Farmer in Bolgatanga)

• “If sustainability of health insurance is the problem, they should fix it and stop creating confusion among the public” – (Radio Presenter in Kumasi)

Ghanaians have also read and heard that many other countries have sought inspiration from Ghana’s story with health insurance and have actually sent delegations to come and pick a lesson or two from our experience. These institutions and countries include South Korea (April 2012), USAID delegation (May 2012), Zambia (April 2012), Kenya, Cameroun, Cote d’ Ivoire, South Africa, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gambia.

Truth be told, we may not exactly have achieved perfection yet with our health insurance, but the foregoing endorsements largely supported by a recent World Bank report may be said to be positive pointers to our drive towards achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs) as a people.

The NHIS is currently operational in 145 districts across the country with a total cumulative membership of over 18 million. Out of this number, over 8 million, representing 34% of Ghana’s current population are active card bearing members. It is in the name of these hard working Ghanaians and their families that this writer is urging our political leadership to stop sowing the seeds of panic and doom around the scheme. They would do all of us a favour by simply shutting up or give us workable options to the universal issue of sustainability in healthcare insurance.

By Lokofi Jimmy

The Citizen Newspaper