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Ghana’s economy might be growing, but its ailing healthcare is holding it back

While Ghana has been tipped to be the world’s fastest-growing economy, one fundamental problem is threatening to derail its progress: healthcare.
While Ghana has been tipped to be the world’s fastest-growing economy, one fundamental problem is threatening to derail its progress: healthcare.
12 September 2019 •

Just three decades ago, Ghana was among the world’s poorest countries, struggling to lift itself out of the poverty trap.

Its economy had been held back by a series of military coups, failed development projects and a massive over-reliance on commodities.

But today, the tides have turned, and the country is a rising star on the global stage — the world’s fastest-growing economy, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF estimates that Ghana’s gross domestic product (GDP) will surge by almost 9 percent this year. This is twice as fast as all emerging economies combined, and well ahead of world growth.

The twin engines of oil and agriculture have turbo-charged the African nation, lifting its 2017 GDP growth rate above its regional peers such as South Africa and Nigeria.

But while economic growth is in the pink of health, the benefits have yet to trickle down to the wider population. In particular, access to healthcare remains poor, said the United Nations.

Ghana’s life expectancy is still glaringly below the global average, as the nation remains dogged by a lack of access to primary healthcare since the early 1990s.

Healthcare left on the sidelines

Despite putting in place national health programs and making clinics more accessible, infectious diseases continue to plague the country.

HIV and malaria are two of the leading causes of death in Ghana. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV killed 10,300 people, or 4.9 percent of the population, in 2012. That same year, malaria wiped out 8.3 percent of its population.

Ghana’s life expectancy remains below the global average.
Ghana’s life expectancy remains below the global average.

For children under five, malaria was the leading cause of death, killing 20 percent within the group.

Ghana’s inherent healthcare issues threaten to derail its economic success.

Recognizing that a strong economy can be sustained only by a healthy population, the government embarked on the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda from 2010 to 2013. This was adopted from the Millennium Development Goals set during the 2000 UN Millennium Declaration.

It has since made great strides in hitting targets such as halving extreme poverty and the proportion of people without access to primary education.

Outcomes of its healthcare goals, on the other hand, have fallen short. Infant and child mortality rates remain high, along with maternal mortality rates.

This is partly due to the government’s insufficient healthcare investment into medical equipment and logistics that is necessary to cater to the country’s increasing healthcare needs.

Ghana is set to be the world’s fastest-growing economy this year.
Ghana is set to be the world’s fastest-growing economy this year.

According to the World Bank, Ghana’s healthcare expenditure formed only 4.45 percent of its GDP in 2016 — well below the 15 percent set by the 2001 Abuja Declaration. Previously, the country’s 2011 oil boom led to overspending on public salary, which caused a considerable budget deficit when oil prices subsequently fell.

The combination of low public health funding and mismanagement of finances has dealt a blow to the healthcare sector, where 36 percent of expenditures are wasted annually.

To compound matters, the lack of funding has triggered widespread hospital commercialization. As hospitals raise their fees to keep their operations running, ordinary citizens are priced out of affordable healthcare and left in the dust while the economy continues to grow.

Improving the healthcare system

While the statistics paint a grim picture, Ghana has taken steps to fix the problems in its healthcare system.

On education, the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had helped train 125 Ghanaians by 2016 to track the spread of infectious diseases. It is also working with the country to educate its citizens on how to tackle infectious diseases.

These are among ongoing efforts over the last few decades to upgrade Ghana’s healthcare education system, including the establishment of several medical education institutions in the country.

Some players in the private sector have also thrown their weight behind these efforts. Solutions that support Ghana’s fight to improve healthcare include Zipline’s drone delivery service for medicines and DHL’s shipment tracking capability, which enhances the cost-efficiency of deliveries.

DHL Global Forwarding Ghana currently distributes health commodities in the Northern and Upper West Regions of the country.

Meticulous checks are made by on-site coordinators, who receive weekly scheduled deliveries before they are sent out to regional medical stores (RMS). The RMS and coordinators are in constant contact during delivery, which helps to gather data such as arrival time, and the type and number of packages delivered.

“This system creates a more systematic and streamlined process as the client gets real-time notifications during deliveries,” said Serigne Ndanck Mbaye, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding West Africa and Country Head of DHL Global Forwarding Ghana.

Having undergone relevant training in goods distribution practices for pharmaceutical products, the DHL Global Forwarding Ghana team also supports the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Ghana’s health ministry to prevent the delivery of illegal or counterfeit medical supplies based on the labeling and specifications on each package.

Since March 2018, over 41,000 packages have been delivered to over 1,010 RMS across the five regions.

Civilians, too, are doing their part. Ghanaian entrepreneur Sesinam Dagadu has created an app that gives 8.7 million people across the country — even in areas without a mobile connection — improved access to ambulance services.

“The WHO has recognized the project as crucial in helping to provide timely emergency care across Africa, as well as help healthcare professionals in their battle against infectious diseases, such as cholera and Ebola, by enabling them to identify centers of outbreaks more easily,” said Dagadu.

Technology will likely play a crucial role in boosting Ghana’s healthcare system and help pave the way for a healthy population capable of realizing its rosy economic prospects.