The Norwegian Ambassador to Ghana, H E Gunner Andreas Holm has reiterated his government’s commitment to ensuring that other essential health services continue as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on. He said this when he paid a courtesy call on WHO Country Representative, Dr Francis Kasolo at his office as part of his end of duty tour of Ghana.
“It is so easy to lose sight of the other health activities that need to go on because of COVID-19. Communicable diseases, sanitation, clean water, and other areas are all losing funding and attention” Mr Holm said. He therefore, called on all to keep the totality of the challenges in mind even though COVID takes priority since it could potentially detract other positive things happening around.
Ambassador Holm revealed that aside from the availability of vaccines, another reason accounting for the low rate of severe and critical cases of COVID-19 in Norway is the robust public health system in the country and encouraged the WHO to keep supporting the Government of Ghana to strengthen its health system.
Dr Francis Kasolo acknowledged the role of the Government of Norway as one of the key donors of the World Health Organization at the global level. Norway stands out as one of the key players, showing great commitment in a number of WHO priority areas including Universal Health Coverage, Health Security, Healthier Populations, and risk factors that drive diseases and hoped that Ambassador Holm’s successor would continue to drive this agenda.
He bemoaned the seemingly increasing trend in people self-medicating due to the fear of potentially getting infected with COVID when they visit the hospital. “The more danger of this practice is in children who definitely have special health needs and need to be seen by professionals”. He sent a note of caution on the dangers of such practices.
Dr Francis Kasolo called for a special discussion on how to protect the pre-COVID gains made in immunizations, deliveries, and other essential services and encouraged the government to begin to dialogue with experts to avoid losing the progress made in these areas over the years.
Lessons beyond COVID-19
Looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and consolidating the gains made, Dr Kasolo recommends the continuous practice of hand hygiene; “In the past two years, there has not been any major incidence of cholera in the country. This is mainly because of people’s behavior in terms of handwashing has helped reduce the spread”. He appealed to public health practitioners to begin championing messages that go beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Kasolo again noted with concern, the branding of certain donated items as ‘COVID items’ which sometimes limit their uses. He believed that some equipment and human resources were being underutilized since they may have multiple or overlapping functions in the health service, and could be beneficial in other areas beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Norwegian Government support for Non-Communicable Diseases
The Government of Norway is supporting the implementation of a 5-year NCDs Initiative in 4 countries including Ghana to scale-up NCD Prevention and Control, in line with the WHO NCD Global Action Plan.
According to Dr Francis Kasolo, this could not have come at a better time as it would get Ghana moving towards achieving some of the low-hanging determinants since most countries have not been able to meet the target set during the United Nations General Assembly high-level discussion on NCDs.
Dr Kasolo further shared some of the progress Ghana has made on NCDs with support from WHO which includes reviewing the Legislative Instrument on tobacco use. There is an ongoing process to finalize the Legislative Instrument on alcohol control and once reviewed by the Attorney General’s Department, would be placed on the floor of Parliament for consideration.
The vision for the NCD initiative in Ghana is for every Ghanaian to have equitable access to NCD prevention and control services to reach the target of a 25% relative reduction in the overall mortality from CVDs, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases and mental health by 2025.