Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Bird Flu virus in Ghana

Daily Graphic, Pg 47, Thursday, April 23/09

Story: Lucy Adoma Yeboah

PRELIMINARY research conducted by the Ghana Veterinary Service indicates that presently the virus that cause the highly pathogenic form of avian influenza (bird flu) are not present in the country.
For a final confirmation on the issue, the service has sent research samples from birds in the country to the International Samples Laboratory in Italy and is awaiting the outcome.
This came out at a media launch of the World Veterinary Day commemoration, which was organised by the Ghana Veterinary Medical Association (GVMA) in Accra yesterday.
World Veterinary Day, which is observed on the last Saturday of April each year, is an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of veterinarians to society. The day was instigated by the World Veterinary Association in 2000 to be celebrated annually.
In his address, the President of the GVMA, Dr K. B. Darkwa, said there was the need for the authorities to accord veterinary practice the needed attention to enable practitioners to perform effectively, since the health of animals had serious effects on humans.
He said a typical example was the outbreak of the avian influenza in 62 countries, which had caused the death of about 140 million birds and 407 human infections and claimed 254 human lives as of March 20, 2009.
Dr Darkwa said veterinarians played a key role in all countries, since they diagnosed medical problems, dressed wounds, set broken bones, performed surgeries, prescribed and administered medicines and vaccinated animals against diseases. They also advise owners on the care and breeding of animals.
The GVMA President said that was the more reason why the association was calling for resuscitation of the veterinary services in Ghana to ensure effective and efficient animal health delivery as it used to be in the past.
To achieve that objective, Dr Darkwa said there was the need for the establishment of a Ghana Veterinary Authority to be attached to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) as a separate entity from the mainstream agriculture.
“With the creation of such an autonomous body, the veterinary service in Ghana will regain its enviable status in animal health delivery and then conform to international standards in legislation, structure and organisation as set by the World Organisation of Animals,” he pointed out.
He explained that in Ghana presently, veterinary services, which was an autonomous department with a clear and effective chain of command, with its own hierarchy and direct line of progression and performing creditably, had suffered a serious setback since 1997 when as a one the World Bank conditionalities, the sector was pushed into the Unified Agriculture Extension System.
Under the system, Dr Darkwa said veterinarians were forced to perform roles that they had no training, adding that “how can a veterinary surgeon who has undergone six years programme in veterinary medicine comparable to that of a medical officer or a dental surgeon be made to supervise corn and cassava production?”.
Oh his part, the Director of the Ghana Veterinary Service, Dr Enoch Mensah Koney, said in spite of the challenges confronting veterinarians in the country, they were doing their best under the circumstance.
He noted that there were structures at all the levels to ensure effective surveillance to ensure early detection of any disease outbreak for the necessary action to be taken.
As part of the celebration, there are plans for radio discussions on the topic: “Anthrax - A Public Health Menace”; a television panel discussion on: “Public Health Significance of Tuberculosis in Animals” as well as an outreach programme and a public lecture on various topics in the Ashanti Region to benefit farmers outside the Greater Accra Region.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NHIS under pressure

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 (Daily Graphic - Front page)

Story: Lucy Adoma Yeboah
A HIGH intrusion rate by Fulani nomads and other nationals from some neighbouring West African countries into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has brought intense pressure on the operations of the scheme.
Officials of the scheme say the influx of other nationals with no clear resident status, but who cross the borders in pursuit of cheaper, as well as free services under the NHIS, is difficult to prevent, since the law allows every resident of Ghana to enjoy services under the scheme.
A Ministry of Health (MoH) document on the scheme titled National Health Policy Framework for Ghana (August 2004), stated that “it is compulsory for every person living in Ghana to belong to a health insurance scheme type”.
It continued that “Every person living in Ghana shall contribute according to the principle of ability to pay in order to enjoy a package of health services covering over 95 per cent of diseases afflicting Ghanaians.”
In a reaction to a Ghana News Agency (GNA) story from the Builsa District that stated that Fulani herdsmen were insisting on registering under the scheme, the Media Relations Officer of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Mr Kwasi Acquah, said the authority had field reports that indicated that pregnant Togolese women allegedly came to Ghana to have access to the free maternal care being enjoyed by Ghanaian women.
Mr Acquah pointed out that the issue was a delicate one, since it was difficult to distinguish a Ghanaian from other nationals who did not reside in the country but only came to have free services.
According to the GNA, Fulani herdsmen and their families, insisting on registering with the NHIS in the Builsa District of the Upper East Region, were hindering the progress of the scheme in the area.
The Fulani families, nomads from neighbouring Burkina Faso, according to the report, were being aided by some opinion leaders in the various communities to harass the NHIS workers to register them.
Mr James Abakesi, Builsa District Manager of the scheme, made the allegation in Bolgatanga when the NHIS managers called on the Regional Minister, Mr Mark Woyongo, to brief him on the operations of the scheme in the region.
Mr Roger Ayine, Regional Manager, NHIS, said other challenges the scheme encountered were high tariffs by health service providers, low incentives for the staff of the scheme, inadequate staff and over centralisation of the issuance of identity cards.
He said a newly registered client had to wait between three months and one year to have his or her card issued from Accra.
He noted that money allocated for pregnant women was inadequate as one attendance to hospital by a pregnant woman cost the scheme GH¢10.88 and they were expected to visit the hospital at least six times before they deliver.
Mr Ayine complained that the new districts that were still depending on their mother districts were posing operational difficulties and called on the minister to help get them their own offices.
The districts are Garu-Tempane, Talensi-Nabdam and Kassena-Nankana East.
  Mr Woyongo said the government would review the NHIS to make it more efficient and urged the workers to be dedicated to their work.

Monday, April 20, 2009

World celebrates Veterinary Day (Features)

THIS year’s World Veterinary Day, an initiative of the World Veterinary Association (WVA), will be celebrated on April 20, on the theme: “Veterinarians and Livestock Farmers: a winning partnership”. The occasion, according to the President of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), Dr Walter Winding, will be used to highlight the need for an integrated approach to veterinary and human medicine.
He also noted that veterinarians played a pivotal role between animals, their owners and society and went on to add that that role was not confined to animal health, but also animal welfare and public health, including food safety.
World Veterinary Day, which is observed on the last Saturday of April each year is an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of veterinarians to society. The day was instigated by the World Veterinary Association in 2000 to be celebrated annually.
Information provided by the World Veterinary Association (WVA) on the commemoration of the day indicate that the theme was chosen to send a clear message to the world as to how veterinarians collaborate with livestock farmers to care for animals alongside other responsibilities.
According to the association, today more than ever, outbreaks of some animal diseases, particularly those harmful to humans was capable of causing considerable economic and social upheaval which sends a wave of panic at national, regional or global level.
It pointed out that recent crises such as the outbreak of bird flu, had shown how a serious health event from the animal kingdom can have a global impact on the rural economy and consumers as well . An early warning associated with a rapid response is however considered the key to fight contagious animal diseases through the integration of all relevant stakeholders in the prevention and disease control mechanisms. This is the main reason why this year’s theme: “Veterinarians and Livestock Farmers: a winning partnership” is relevant.
According to the WVA, veterinarians played a key role in all countries as guarantors of animal health as well as public health. But the effectiveness of their action was strongly linked to and dependent on their relationship with farmers.
This is so because livestock farmers all around the world are the first sentinels of animal disease events and a rapid response in the fight against animal diseases cannot leave aside their crucial role.
Their role in the fight against animal health is very significant since they are also the first to suffer from animal diseases through important losses in their livelihood.
Experience has shown the importance of organisational and economic factors by enabling the world’s 600 million livestock farmers to fulfil their role in the chain of protection. Therefore, improvement of their animal health training through the support of veterinarians must be considered central to the risk anticipation and risk mutualisation strategies that the international community will increasingly have to initiate.
In an article written by Alfred Hudges in the Ghana Veterinary Medical Association’s bi-annual newsletter which appeared in June 2007, it said the association, which was the local chapter of World Veterinary Association (WVA), had contributed in no small way to all the important issues confronting the veterinary profession and public health in Ghana.
It pointed out that the veterinarian profession was so diverse to the extent that it took care of pets, livestock and poultry as well as sporting and laboratory animals and protected humans against diseases which were carried by animals.
Veterinarians also diagnose medical problems, dress wounds, set broken bones, perform surgeries, prescribe and administer medicines and vaccinate animals against diseases. They also advise owners on the care and breeding of animals.
In Ghana, most veterinary doctors are employed by the government working in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA). Apart from those in the public sector there are others who are in private general practice where they treat all kinds of animals such as dogs, cats, birds, cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and monkeys, among others.
It is important to note that to achieve the objective of getting the animals cared for, farmers should be equipped to enable them play an important role ; the improvement of their animal health training through the support of veterinarians must be considered central to the risk anticipation and risk mutualisation strategies that the international community will increasingly have to initiate.
As part of the annual commemoration, the WVA and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in 2008, agreed on the creation of the World Veterinary Day Award which aimed at rewarding the most successful celebration of the veterinary profession by national veterinary associations, alone, or in cooperation with any other selected veterinary bodies.
The 2009 Award will be delivered at the 77th OIE General Assembly to be held in Paris, France from May 24 to 29 2009 and a prize of US$ 1,000 will be donated to the winner. The Kenya Veterinary Association won the $1,000 award in 2008.
The 2009 Award will reward the veterinary association who will best publicise the theme by involving the livestock farmers in the organisation of events along with all other
stakeholders such as the media and the general public.
Events for the celebration could be public events organised with the support of the media such as open days, competitions or any event that could create attention and get messages out to a large number of people in an interesting, entertaining and stimulating.
The deadline for national associations to apply for the award is May 1.
In Ghana the occasion would be observed by members of the Ghana Veterinary Medical Association (GVMA) with a series of activities to educate the public on the role and importance of veterinary services to the Ghanaian society.
Some of the activities lined up to mark the event are media launch of the day on April 20, in Accra, radio discussions on the topic: “Anthrax- A Public Health Menace; a television panel discussion on: “Public Health Significance of Tuberculosis in Animals” as well as an outreach programme and a public lecture on various topics in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Steps to streamline District Mutual Health Schemes (Page 31)

CHALLENGES confronting the district mutual health schemes are expected to be solved this year with the introduction of a technology backbone into the operations of the schemes.
According to the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), with the new technology in place, about 60 per cent of claims received from the various healthcare providers nation-wide would be processed electronically at the regional centres to ensure early payments.
Claims are currently processed manually at the individual district scheme offices, a situation NHIA officials say accounts for the delays.
The authority has also stated that it will employ new personnel for the processing and payment of claims.
These were contained in a report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health on the 2009 Budget Estimate of the Ministry of Health.
The issue of delays in the payment of claims by the various DMHISs has been a major problem facing both the schemes and the healthcare providers, especially those under the Ghana Health Service (GHS).
On February 10, this year, the Daily Graphic reported that some of the 145 schemes nation-wide faced imminent collapse if the GH¢38 million they owed service providers was not paid by the end of the month.
That came out at a meeting in Kumasi at the beginning of January 2009 during which the service providers threatened to demand payment from insured persons before they would be taken care of and demanded the payment of all outstanding debts by the end of the February.
When he was contacted to comment on the issue, the Director-General of the GHS, Dr Elias Sory, confirmed the decision taken by the facilities.
The NHIA thereafter made attempts to help the schemes to offset some the debts.
In the report, the select committee identified the high cost of administration, unskilled personnel, the existence of numerous claim centres, as well as delays in the submission of claims, as some of the factors which affected the general efficiency of the NHIS.
It was, however, optimistic that with the introduction of the technology backbone into the operations of the scheme, most of the problems would be solved.
It called for holistic support in the achievement of the goals of the scheme, as well as intense monitoring and evaluation of the scheme to ensure efficiency.
The committee also called on the National Insurance Commission (NIC) to ensure that its percentage contribution to the NHIS for emergency service was released within the year to support the activities of the scheme.
In the same report, the committee called for the capturing of the National Ambulance Service (NAB) of the MoH under the NHIS to enable the service to obtain an adequate number of ambulances for its operations.
It said looking at the importance services the NAB rendered to the nation, there was the need for it be provided with adequate financial support to enable it to be more efficient.
It pointed out the NAB, as it stood at present, was working with inadequate resources and stated that the service had only 36 ambulances, a number which was inadequate to cover the whole country effectively.

Monday, April 13, 2009


April 8, 2009

RESEARCH conducted in the United States (US) showed that 18 months after a ban on smoking in public places in Colorado, hospital admission for heart attacks dropped by 27 per cent compared to areas where smoking was not banned.
In addition, there was a significant improvement in the health and productivity of restaurant and bar staff after the ban.
This was contained in paper presented by a Principal Health Research Officer at the Health Research Unit of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Mrs Edith Wellington, at a stakeholders’ sensitisation seminar on ban of smoking in public in Kumasi.
The seminar was to enable participants to share information, create awareness and mobilise support in banning smoking in public places.
Addressing the participants, Mrs Wellington said that the time had come for everybody to support the ban to protect people from the harmful effect of second-hand smoke.
Second-hand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. It is involuntarily inhaled by non-smokers, lingers in the air hours after cigarettes have been extinguished and can cause a wide range of adverse health effects, including cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma.
Other reasons why health experts call for ban on smoking in public places is that second-hand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death in children and adults who do not smoke.
According to the experts, second-hand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic, including some dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic ammonia and hydrogen cyanide, which are harmful to humans when inhaled.
It also causes almost 50,000 deaths in adult non-smokers in the United States each year, including approximately 3,400 from lung cancer and between 22,700 and 69,600 from heart diseases.
Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke at work are at increased risk for adverse health effects. Again, levels of second-hand smoke in restaurants and bars were found to be two to five times higher than in residences with smokers and two to six times higher than in office workplaces.
Looking at these negative effects from second-hand smoke, Mrs Wellington in her presentation pointed out that non smokers deserved the right to breathe air free of second hand smoke, regardless of where they live or work.
She indicated that since some countries had been able to ban the practice, Ghana also could do that and mentioned countries such as India which had about 120 million smokers, Thailand, United Kingdom, some states in the US, Norway and Italy.
Others are Sweden, France, Denmark, Spain, Japan as well as South Africa, Uganda and Kenya in Africa .
It has been observed that one excuse that both manufacturers of tobacco products and smokers give is that they also have a right to do what they want forgetting that “the right of a person to breathe air free of poisons takes precedence over the right of smokers to smoke in public places and endanger the health of others”.
It is important for them to know that it is not about accommodation or the freedom to use a legal product. It is about where to smoke to avoid endangering the health of others.
Speaking at the seminar, the Deputy Regional Director of Health Service, Dr Joseph Oduro, said the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) aimed at protecting both the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.
He told the participants that the tobacco threat was a man-made profit-driven epidemic that could be stopped on its track and added that the challenge was not only to educate the public about ????????the harmful effects of tobacco use but also to see the treaty from its paper form to a legislature and eventual enforcement just had been done elsewhere.????????
The Health Information and Promotion Officer of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Office in Ghana, Ms Sophia Twum-Barima, said the WHO backed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was in response to current globalisation of the tobacco epidemic which caused five million deaths a year globally.
She pointed out that these deaths could increase to eight million by 2030 if the trend continued adding that unfortunately, 70 per cent of the deaths occurred in developing countries including Ghana.
Ms Twum-Barima pointed out that because the tobacco industry was facing increased regulations and greater awareness of health risk of smoking in Europe and North America, these multinationals companies had stepped up activities in developing countries in search of new markets.
To save the lives of its citizens who did not want to die from the harmful effects of smoke, she said there was the need for Ghana to ban public smoking just like other countries which had ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). She explained that the convention imposed legal obligation on all ratifying countries to implement effective national smoke-free policies.
Looking at how harmful smoking could be to both smokers and non-smokers, it is important that the authorities put in place the policy which bans smoking in places. In the words of Mrs Wellington, “Every body has a right to good health”.
We must ensure that the basic rights of individuals are not violated by others. By banning smoking in public places, the majority of Ghanaians would be protected from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

World Health Day Launched (Spread)

THE Minister of Health, Dr George Sipa-Ajah Yankey, yesterday launched the World Health Day in Accra with a call on health workers to re-dedicate themselves to the improvement of healthcare delivery in the country.
Addressing participants at a well-attended ceremony at the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) auditorium, Dr Yankey said, “Let us be convinced that any life lost must have received the best of treatment from us and our colleagues, that the loss was not unpreventable”.
He also reiterated the government’s preparedness to provide the right leadership towards the achievement of the objectives of the health sector and said as a government, they would work towards improving emergency services in the country.
April 7 each year has been set aside as the World Health Day by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to commemorate the establishment of the organisation by the United Nations (UN). This year’s theme is: “Save Lives: Make Hospitals Safe in Emergencies” to emphasise the importance of protecting health facilities to continue to be functional in times of emergencies and humanitarian crises.
Present at the function were the Director General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Elias Sory, officials of some donor agencies, heads of agencies and programmes under the GHS, health professionals, as well as other officials within health sector.
Delivering the keynote address, Dr Yankey urged health workers to work towards the reduction of avoidable deaths, be prepared for emergencies anytime and anywhere, stressing that the health sector could not continue to explain away loss of precious lives.
He observed that this year’s theme might have been chosen because of recent increasing rate of accidents and emergencies that were currently confronting the global community, adding that in some parts of developing world, including Ghana, accident rates had risen to very high proportions.
To get the work done, the Minister of Health said he had identified emergency service as one of the prime areas for investment by the government and explained that the country needed a health system that responded to the priorities of Ghanaians.
In line with that, he said the government would this year work on the passage of the National Ambulance Service Bill to transform the Ambulance Unit into a National Ambulance Service to make it more effective in providing pre-hospital services.
Dr Yankey said the government was also working hard to increase the fleet of ambulances, train more health personnel in emergency service delivery as well as procure air ambulances and construct heliports in selected health locations.
For his part, the WHO Country Representative in Ghana, Dr Daniel Kertesz, described emergencies as situations that demanded immediate action and response and included floods, fire outbreaks, earthquakes, road traffic accidents or the consequences of armed conflicts.
Providing figures to support his point, Dr Kertesz said road traffic accidents, for example, killed 3,200 people around the world every day with at least 90 per cent of those deaths occurring in low and middle income countries.
He said in 2008 alone, more than 90 per cent of African countries were affected by emergencies and announced that as part of the commemoration of the day, the WHO was advocating a series of best practices which could be implemented in any resource setting to make hospitals and health facilities safe during emergencies.
The Director of the National Ambulance Unit, Dr Ahmed Zakaria, took the opportunity to educate the participants on how to administer first aid to people in emergency situations in the absence of health workers.
The Chairperson for the occasion, Mrs Dina Boakye, who is also the Director, Disaster Department of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), advised every Ghanaian to help prevent disasters since the government alone could not do everything.

NADMO prepare to face challenges (Page 30)

(April 7, 2009)

THE National Co-ordinator of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), Mr Kofi Portuphy, has given the assurance that personnel of the organisation are poised to make Accra a disaster-free city.
To achieve that objective, the NADMO Co-ordinator said, the personnel would embark on various training programmes to prepare them adequately for any eventuality.
As part of such training programmes, Mr Portuphy said, some of the personnel are currently being trained at the military training school at Shai Hills in the Greater Accra Region after which they were expected to train their colleagues.
Addressing journalists at press a conference in Accra last Thursday, Mr Portuphy said his outfit would also intensify public education programmes to get the entire populace to support their efforts since they were considered a major stakeholder.
He took the opportunity to advise residents of Accra to change their attitude and avoid indulging in activities which could cause flooding and fires which usually created untold hardship.
He said it was unfortunate to see people pretend not to see and go ahead to put up mighty buildings in water ways only to create problems for themselves and others during rainy seasons.
Mr Portuphy observed that if it became necessary for one to build in a flood prone area, the person could save society the trouble if he or she built on pillars (stilts) above the ground to allow for easy flow of water instead of building on the ground to prevent the free flow of water.
Citing a case to support his argument, he said at Nzulezu in the Western Region, people live on water but have never encountered any flooding because they build on pillars above the river.
Mr Portuphy also condemned the practice whereby some residents disposed of refuse into drains, a situation he said was a major cause of flooding in Accra.
He also touched on a recent development where some property owners for fear of armed robbers fortified their buildings to the extent that they got trapped when there were fire outbreaks and advised property owners to consult experts on such matters.
In response to a question, Mr Portuphy said it would be ideal to have covered drains throughout the country but that could be effective only after the nation had acquired the necessary equipment to be used in cutting into the concrete covers when such drains got silted with sand and other objects which might find their way into the drains.
Sharing his experience with this journalist, he said during a recent tour of the city, he observed that such places as the Kaneshie, Odorkor and Mateheko police stations which had been earmarked as safe havens in times of disaster had been occupied with accident vehicles, a situation he described as worrying.
To assist the NADMO to perform its duties satisfactorily, Mr Portuphy advised residents to learn to protect the environment to ensure a safe city for everybody.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

NADMO to relocate displaced villagers (Back Page)

(Friday, April 3, 2009)

THE National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) is preparing to relocate about 5,000 displaced inhabitants of Totopey to a nearby community, Dasupe, near Ada, in the Dangbe East District by the end of this month.
That has become necessary because tidal waves have made the community uninhabitable, a situation officials of the NADMO said could be disastrous in May, when the tides were usually high.
This was made known at a press conference the National Co-ordinator of the NADMO, Mr Kofi Portuphy, purposefully held in Accra yesterday to react to some media reports that his organisation was preparing to demolish the house of the former President, Mr J. A. Kufuor, because it was on a waterway.
He denied those reports and rather explained that even though some new apartment buildings opposite Mr Kufuor’s residence were causing flooding, he had no authority to demolish any property except that he could only make recommendations to government for the necessary action to be taken.
According to him, he just cited those buildings at a meeting with a section of his staff.
Turning his attention on disaster management activities for the Accra Metropolis, Mr Portuphy said the NADMO would expand its educational programmes to enlighten residents on how to prevent disasters.
He also hinted that some personnel of the organisation were currently undergoing training at the Military Training Camp at Shai Hills with the Field Engineers Regiment of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) to learn more about disaster management and how to protect lives and property when the need arose.
Throwing more light on the Totopey issue in an interview with the Daily Graphic, the Greater Accra Regional Co-ordinator of the NADMO, Mr Winfred Nomotey Tesia, said the organisation was in the process of preparing a site with the help of the Dangbe East District office of the Town and Country Planning Department for the erection of tents to temporarily house the affected people.
He said the inhabitants, who were mainly fisherfolks, would be moved to a higher ground at Dasupe, to enable them to continue with their fishing activities.
Mr Tesia said the organisation had started discussions with some local and international organisations to support it in getting permanent places of abode for the displaced inhabitants.
The regional co-ordinator took the opportunity to appeal to other state institutions to support the organisation in the provision of basic amenities such as water and health care facilities for the people.