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The health of the nation

Article - March 28, 2012
As Ghana's economy and infrastructure rapidly improve, so must its hospitals and clinics

Ghana’s infrastructure must improve rapidly in order to take full advantage of the economic opportunities provided by the recent discoveries of gas and oil. Existing roads can be greatly improved and new ones built, along with better sewers, fresh water supply pipes and electrical grids in order to allow the newly found raw fuels to be transported quickly throughout the country, either to be rendered by Ghanaians, or exported.

While the new economic stability afforded by the discovery of these fuels needs to fund the necessary infrastructure to export them, it must also be used to greatly improve the healthcare system in Ghana, for the benefit of all. Tremendous opportunities lie in Ghana’s healthcare sector for German companies with engineering expertise, as the country needs to build more hospitals and clinics alongside its rapidly improving infrastructure.

“If we look at the health of every nation, it is determined by access to healthcare. Our target is to ensure everybody has access to good healthcare.”

Chireh Joseph Yieleh, Former Minister for Health,
The medical system in Ghana comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, which is also charged with the control of dangerous drugs, narcotics, scientific research, and the professional qualifications of medical personnel. Regional and district medical matters fall under the jurisdiction of trained medical superintendents. Over the years, all administrative branches of the Ministry of Health have worked closely with city, town, and village councils in educating the population in sanitation matters. The former Minister for Health, the Honourable Chireh Joseph Yieleh, recently discussed the growth of Ghana’s healthcare system alongside the country’s continued economic growth, by saying “If we look at the health of every nation, it is determined by access to healthcare. Our target is to ensure everybody has access to good healthcare. At the beginning it was free for everybody, but in the 1970s and 1980s even though it was free, you could not get all the medicines. Our objective now is financial and geographical access to health care. These goals relate to reducing child mortality and reducing maternal mortality, improving maternal health generally. We are also looking at dealing with helping those with AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.”

While many modern medical facilities exist in Ghana, these are not evenly distributed across the country, and improved infrastructure is key to getting more hospitals and clinics built. Throughout the 1980’s the World Health Organisation and the Ghanaian government worked closely to control schistosomiasis in man-made bodies of water. Efforts intensified even further throughout the following decades to improve the nation's sanitation facilities and access to safe water. The percentage of the national population that had access to safe water rose from 49.2%in 1980 to 57.2% percent in 1987. During that same period, the 25.6% of the population with access to sanitation services such as public latrines and regular rubbish disposal slowly rose to 30.3%. Today however, sanitation services, access to clean water and public latrines are commonplace throughout Ghana, greatly improving the overall health and life expectancy of its population.

Ghana's response to HIV/AIDS has also taken a positive turn: its prevalence rate is now 1.7%, the lowest rate so far in West Africa, according to statistics from the Ghana Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS). The prevalence rate has been dropping from 3.1% in 2004 to 2.7% in 2005 to the current level, largely as a result of sustained educational campaigns and subsequent behavioural modifications among the adult population.

However, healthcare infrastructure improvements have mainly taken place in Ghana’s urban areas, meaning more hospitals and clinics are still needed for the country’s rural population. When asked if private investors could help improve Ghana’s healthcare sector, Mr Yieleh said “...we need to build more hospitals, health centres clinics. These are not provided by the government alone; we have private investors along with the local people, pharmacies and doctors who are opening their own private clinics together… We now have the burden of lifestyle diseases along with the infectious and communicable diseases that we have still not managed to combat. We need to resources to face this. We can do more, and we are all committed to it.”