Key recommendations in a report that was drafted by the Catholic Bishops in Ghana on the country’s Public Health Act, among them provision of quality healthcare, is what Ghana needed to fight COVID-19 pandemic in the country, a Church official in the West African country has said.
The 2014 report, ‘Making Ghana’s Public Health Act Work for All’ that was compiled by the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) in December, was an assessment of Ghana’s Public Health Act of 2012 (Act 851), which according to Samuel Zan Akologo, Executive Secretary of Caritas Ghana, has never been effected in the country.
“The report forewarned about Public Health Threats on Pages 20 and 21 and how to position ourselves in the health sector with this Act. It is very, very sad, to be tempted to say “I told you so” in the wake of COVID 19,” Mr. Akologo said in an interview with ACI Africa correspondent Thursday, April 16.
“Some of us were not surprised when some legal minds in the National Opposition Party’s camp suggested that Ghana’s Public Health Act had sufficient provisions to deal with the threat of COVID-19,” he said.
Akologo who oversaw the compilation and publication of the report revealed that in 2014, the Department of Human Development (representing Caritas Ghana at the time), released its report, which concluded that the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service had not been vigorous in the implementation of the Health Act of 2012.
The report concluded that health facilities were limited in the country that also battled with an acute shortage of health personnel. The few health professionals, according to the report, were unevenly distributed in the country with other regions having no resources.
“Certain public health threats are almost annualized, majority of the people cannot afford quality healthcare, and maternal and under 5 years mortality rates are unacceptably high. Greater attention to public health promotion by all health sector stakeholders is not only necessary but unavoidable,” Mr. Akologo quoted a part of the report during the interview.
The Bishops then enumerated specific recommendations to health authorities in the country, according to Akologo.
“Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies should prioritize public health issues and establish broad based stakeholders’ committees to enforce public health standards and to respond appropriately to outbreak of public health threat,” he said.
With at least 641 reported cases of COVID-19 in Ghana and eight deaths, the recommendations are yet to be implemented, according to the Caritas Ghana official.
“This (recommendation) was not done at the time (2014) and still remains undone even during the outbreak of COVID-19,” he said.
Akologo said that key stakeholders should be trained on the requirements of the Act 851 and how to apply it in addressing public health concern.
“We need not wait for COVID-19 to be doing what we are feverishly doing now when there already existed a broad policy framework on public health since 2012,” he said, adding that “COVID-19 will surely go away but we have no longer an excuse to remain in such unpardonable aloofness to public health in this country.”
He revealed that the Catholic Church in Ghana had launched a proactive campaign on public health to promote implementation of Ghana’s Public Health Act 851. The public, he said, is also targeted with genuine information on COVID-19 to dispel the myths associated with the virus.
According to Mr. Akologo, COVID-19 has been accepted globally “as a pandemic of unprecedented scale and scope and what is often missed is emphasis on its relationship to public health, leading Ghana to resort to a very ad-hoc and sporadic response.”
“This firefighting approach to just one public health concern should embolden us to a more long-term strategy for a comprehensive approach to public health,” Akologo said, emphasizing that “this must not be a tuft war between mainstream health officials and those responsible for local governance.”
He added, “As you know, the COVID-19 continue to wreck terrible havoc across the whole world and Ghana is no exception with a rapid infection rate.”
According to the Caritas Ghana head, public health should be understood as the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health “through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.”
He revealed that in a bid to address the need of “organized efforts”, Government considered enacting and enforcing legislation to reinforce health-promoting attitudes and behaviours and to protect the environment, noting that accordingly, the Public Health Act of 2012, Act 851 was enacted in October, 2012 in fulfillment of this strategy.
“The Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference at the time, welcomed the move and even persuaded the President to give early assent to it to become operational. By passing Act 851, the objective was to revise and consolidate the law relating to public health to prevent disease, promote, safeguard, maintain and protect the health of humans and animals and to provide for related matters; like COVID-19,” he said.
He added, “Sadly to date, there has been no operational framework in the form of Regulations or Legislative Instrument for this Act. This is the reason why I think very seriously that the COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call and a sober reminder for Ghana to revisit its own Public Health Act of 2012 and give meaning to its passage.”