Authors : Eric ADUA, Kwasi FRIMPONG, Xia LI, Wei WANG
Publication Site : US National Library of Medicine
Publication Type : Article
Date of publication : August 2017
In the past two decades, Ghana has experienced rapid economic growth, along with the increase in spending on health. Since 2001, the country has increased its public healthcare spending by 11%, which is 15% higher than the accompanying increase in government revenues.
Concurrently, there has been a tremendous population growth over the past decade with at least 65% of the populace expected to be urban dwellers by 2030. With this growth in population coupled with ageing, rapid urbanization and increasing adoption of sedentary lifestyle, there could be a shift in focus from communicable diseases (CD) to non-communicable diseases (NCD), which would place further pressure on the scarce healthcare resources.
Total health expenditure is defined as the measure of the sum of revenues collected from different sources and comprises general, private and out-of-pocket.
In Ghana, general expenditures rose after 2003 and slightly decreased in 2008. Apart from Ghana’s socioeconomic problems, this decrease could be attributed to the global financial crisis.
In the past two decades, Ghana has experienced rapid economic growth, along with the increase in spending on health. Since 2001, the country has increased its public healthcare spending by 11%, which is 15% higher than the accompanying increase in government revenues
Yet compared with neighbouring countries such as Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana seems to have performed better in its commitment to health. The general government health expenditure increased from 53 per capita US$ in 1995 to 60 per capita US$ in 2014.
Both private and out-of-pocket expenditures were high between 1995 and 2004 but declined after 2005. The introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in 2004 could have resulted in high general healthcare spending and a reduced share of private and out-of-pocket spending.
Although private and out-of pocket expenditures have declined over the years, the financial protection in Ghana has been inadequate. Some of the determinants of increased out-of-pocket expenditures are inadequate health insurance coverage and poverty. Government’s investments have not been enough to meet the rising healthcare costs.
Funding inadequacy has therefore fuelled hospital commercialization. Thus, hospitals are compelled to increase service prices to generate funds for maintaining medical equipments. It has been predicted that high out-of-pocket expenditures on healthcare will continue to have a devastating effect on the socioeconomic status of households unless pragmatic steps are taken to address the prevailing challenges.
Another factor that may have contributed to the high out-of-pocket expenditures is over-dependence on foreign aids and grants for financing healthcare.
External sources rose from 1999 but declined after 2003. A study that analyzed data from the World Bank suggested that remittances to developing countries, including Ghana, reduced by 5.5% (US$307 billion) in 2009. Workers’ remittances to Ghana also reduced from US$126 million in 2008 to US$114 million in 2009.
Health expenditures and the impact on life expectancy
From 1995 to 2014, the life expectancy of Ghanaians has increased steadily. Life expectancy at birth increased from 60.7 to 64.8 years. Expenditures on healthcare as a share of per capita total healthcare expenditures show a positive association with life expectancy at birth. Other studies not limited to Ghana that investigated the association between public healthcare spending and health outcomes have reached similar conclusions.
This important data shows that the healthcare system has somehow done well in certain areas of measurable outcomes. The increased life expectancy may be attributed to several factors, such as new medicines and vaccines, good governance, education, social structures, income distribution, environmental changes and lifestyle changes.
Health expenditures and the impact on infant and under-5 mortalities
Increased public healthcare spending has reduced infant and under-5 mortalities. In the years when total healthcare expenditures per capita were very low (~US$10), infant and under-5 mortalities were high, 72/1000 live births and 111/1000 live births, respectively. As total healthcare expenditures increased, mortality declined, and by the end of 2014, these figures have reduced to 44.2/1000 live births and 78/1000 live births, respectively.
From 1995 to 2014, the life expectancy of Ghanaians has increased steadily. Life expectancy at birth increased from 60.7 to 64.8 years
It is also possible that certain factors have had contributed to the decrease in mortality other than health spending alone. Improvements in health outcomes can be attributed to the structure of the Ghana healthcare system that strengthens healthcare service provisions. The healthcare system is distributed across the national, regional and district levels to promote accessibility, quality and easy transmission of healthcare information within the various levels in the sector. Additionally, positive health outcomes can be attributed to the introduction/implementation of various healthcare policies by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Ghana. While there are many of such healthcare policies, this paper will highlight the major ones.
Child healthcare policies
United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) reports that one in 12 children worldwide dies before the 5th birthday. In 2011, nearly 2.9 million children representing 44% of children under 5 years died worldwide mainly from preventable childhood diseases. Some identified causes of these deaths include child malnutrition, sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, malaria, diarrhoea, upper respiratory infections, asphyxia, prematurity and low birth weights. Child stunting, defined as growth retardation due to inadequate consumption of food, is also a major contributor to child deaths.
Child malnutrition and stunted growth account for 40% and 20% of childhood deaths in Ghana, respectively.
Two of the interventions are the Ghana Child Health Policy (CHP) and the Child Health Strategy (CHS). These interventions focus on ways to improve accessibility to healthcare, guarantee quality of medical care and increase the demand for essential services. Predominant diseases, such as cholera and diarrhoea that mostly affect infants, are targeted.
Low-osmolarity oral rehydration salts and zinc are adopted to manage diarrhoea, and new vaccines against measles, pneumococcal disease and rotavirus are introduced. Immunization programs are widespread in Ghana, and there was an improvement in the immunization rate for measles from 68.8% in 1998 to 79.9% in 2008 and 87.7% in 2010.
Maternal healthcare policies
Maternal mortality accounts for 14% of all female deaths, making it the second leading cause of female mortalities in Ghana. Before 2000, it was estimated that between 540 and 650 mothers died for every 100,000 live births in Ghana. With this high maternal mortality rate, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) implemented several policies that can help improve maternal health and reduce maternal deaths. First, there was the introduction of an antenatal care policy and a safe motherhood initiative 1998. These policies had a limited effect on maternal mortality.
Financial inadequacies and preference for unskilled maternity care services were major contributors for maternal mortalities. Therefore, the MoH introduced the delivery exemption policy in 2003 to provide free maternal delivery and reduce the financial constraints associated with using skilled maternal services. The inclusion of the free maternal care policy in the NHIS has been beneficial. The number of mothers registered in the NHIS rose from 421,234 in 2008 to 754,648 in 2012, and on-going participation growth is evident.
Maternal mortality accounts for 14% of all female deaths, making it the second leading cause of female mortalities in Ghana. Before 2000, it was estimated that between 540 and 650 mothers died for every 100,000 live births in Ghana
The policy covers normal deliveries, assisted deliveries, caesarean sections and management of complications arising from maternal deliveries. Ghana improved its maternal care by increasing the skilled care coverage from 47% in 2003, 55% in 2010 and 68% in 2015. Because of these policies, maternal mortalities declined to 350/100,000 live births by 2013 and 319 deaths in 2015. Although the implementation of these initiatives have improved access to medical care, maternal mortality in Ghana remains high. When compared with some states within the West African region, Ghana seems to have performed well in terms of reduction in maternal mortality rates.
The National Health Insurance Scheme policy
An estimated 150 million people globally experience financial hardship after accessing medical care through out-of-pocket payments. Therefore, protecting the poor from catastrophic healthcare spending has become a priority in most countries. Ghana spearheaded a community-based health insurance scheme (CBHIS) experiment in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The scheme covered only 1% of the population and failed to improve the accessibility for the poor. A more inclusive national policy led to the enactment of the National Health Insurance Law in 2003, which was later referred to as the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in 2004.
The inception of the NHIS has offered enormous benefits to the populace and presently covers 95% of all diseases in Ghana. Active members in the scheme have risen from 2.5 million in 2004 to 8,885,757 million in 2012 and 10,145,196 million in 2013, covering 38% of the entire Ghanaian population. Insured individuals pay half the cost of their healthcare treatments and, thus, have greatly reduced out-of-pocket expenditures. Available data shows an increase in outpatient department cases, pharmaceutical usage, prenatal care, delivery services and maternal healthcare services.
Despite these important achievements, a high proportion of the populace (often rural citizens) are yet to enrol because of poverty, as they are unable to afford the NHIS registration fee. This implies that universal health coverage has only become a vision. For instance, poverty-stricken regions in Ghana, primarily in the upper west, upper east and northern areas, have recorded low enrolment in the scheme compared to urban areas.
Chronic non-communicable diseases and policy interventions
The distribution of health outcomes (i.e. life expectancy, maternal, infant and under-5 mortalities) has been influenced by the pattern of disease. Rapid urbanization, affluence and globalization have led to physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. Additionally, the pattern of nutrition especially in the urban cities of Ghana has largely been skewed towards refined carbohydrates, red meats, snacks, processed and fats foods, while those rich in fibre, legumes and vegetables are abandoned.
Taken together, these behaviours have fuelled the prevalence of NCDs. NCDs are responsible for the death of an estimated 86,200 people in Ghana each year. Presently, the leading causes of NCD deaths are cardiovascular (18%), cancer (5%), chronic respiratory (2%), diabetes (2%) and other NCDs (14%). Despite these alarming NCD-related deaths and its associated burden on the people affected, the majority of people living with known risk factors including hyperglycaemia, high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia among others, are not aware.
Surprisingly, Ghana does not have a comprehensive chronic disease policy yet. At the same time, treatment for most of the NCD diseases is not covered by the NHIS, and with the limited government subsidy on prescription medicines, patients are compelled to pay before they could access medical care, which has also led to increased out-of pocket and catastrophic expenditures.
Recommendations and outlook
There should be adequate investments in district and local hospitals to improve early disease detection and facilitate early treatment. Adequate incentives, such as affordable housing, vehicle allowances, scholarships for aspiring medical professionals among others, can encourage healthcare personnel to stay instead of leaving for better opportunities abroad. Like the University of Health and Allied Sciences that was set up to solely train health professionals, more of such institutions should be set up across the country to increase the total health workforce.
Concurrently, existing healthcare institutions should be expanded and equipped with state-of-the art facilities to improve healthcare delivery. There should be an increase in health revenues, better approaches for resource mobilization, tax exemptions on medical/diagnostic equipment and logistics, and strengthening public-private partnerships all of which will help bridge the funding gab and limit the impact of external resource decline.
While the government is trying and looking for approaches to accelerate the enrolment of vulnerable people to the scheme, useful alternative will be to adopt the voluntary insurance scheme such as the one introduced by the Chinese Government (fastest/largest developing country in the world) in 2002. In this scheme, rural dwellers are allowed to voluntarily enrol while the scheme is supported with funds from private institutions, local government and the central government. Utilizing this innovative scheme, 72 million people that make up 83% of the entire rural population were insured and it has hugely reduced the economic burden of diseases among rural dwellers in China.
As stated previously, NCDs have hugely affected health outcomes leading to several premature deaths. Some of these deaths could have been prevented or perhaps delayed with the correct health education or health literacy. This is where the concept of predictive, preventive and personalized medicine (PPPM) comes in. On the one hand, PPPM promotes the recognition of people who are intermediate in health and disease-suboptimal health and thus able to identify them (e.g. using screening tools) prior to clinical manifestation.
Hospital commercialization and the high level of uninsured individuals should not be politicized but should instead provide an overarching direction for increasing the utilization of healthcare services for all
In such individuals, the potential progression to NCDs can be reversed with appropriate intervention. On the other hand, a unique characteristic of PPPM is to ‘identify the right patient, treat him or her with the right therapy with the right dose at the right time’. A person’s quality of life whether healthy or patient is influenced by multiple determinants such as environmental, economic, traditional and behavioural factors. PPPM takes into consideration all these factors and thus providing a holistic platform for healthcare givers/professionals to treat and manage diseases. Therefore, PPPM should be the next direction to improving healthcare in Ghana.
Hospital commercialization and the high level of uninsured individuals should not be politicized but should instead provide an overarching direction for increasing the utilization of healthcare services for all. We concur with the recommendation that there should be specialized healthcare agencies set up and tasked with regulating the allocation of healthcare resources within the sector. In other words, the government should strengthen these agencies and also set up independent anticorruption bodies to prevent financial mismanagement. Probity, transparency and accountability should also be priorities of the government and the healthcare sector so that citizens can hold the government accountable.
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