Treatment for childhood cancers and the cost of Hydroxyurea, a drug used for the treatment of sickle cell anaemia, are now covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
The Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, who announced this, said: “We have started with four cancers among children for now, but we are determined to expand in due course. As we know, incremental improvement is always the way and exponential impact should not be compromised when it comes to health care.”
“Our children’s present and future can only be secured if all the factors that threaten their existence and quality of life are eliminated. We are determined to make it happen and we should not
relent,” he added.
Dr Bawumia, who was speaking at a symposium organized by the Ministry of Health, the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) and Roche, a biotech company, in Accra yesterday, said the reimbursement of childhood cancers under the NHIS became effective on July 1, 2022, and that efforts were also being made to add other forms of cancer treatment to the list of ailments covered by the NHIS.
He urged all parties to bring their resources to the table to make the programme successful and sustainable.
For most government initiatives, including the treatment of cancers, to be sustained, Dr Bawumia said, funding was required.
“I am glad that we, as a nation, are putting our children first and protecting them and their dreams. Sometimes it is good to look at the value of investments and not just the cost,” he added.
A diagnosis of cancer, according to him, often appeared to be a death sentence, affecting not just the subject but the rest of the family and the entire community, unless well-structured and well-resourced interventions were at play to curb the burden.
Cancer on rising
Dr Bawumia said the cancer was on the rise in many developing countries, while its effects on economies were grave if nothing was done to control it.
“For a health project such as this great childhood cancer service to continue, all stakeholders need to bring their resources, such as expertise, awareness creation, early detection and treatment, on board.
“The successful outcome of provisions like these is what will keep things sustained. Seeing that our children are being diagnosed early and treated and recovering will certainly encourage the NHIA and all other partners to continue to fund the services. We all have a role to play,” he stressed.
While touting the role of technology, effective collaboration and data in the management of health, Dr Bawumia pointed out that there were multiple players in health care that required data for valuable investments, with health data actually generating income for some countries.
“Clinical trials, research and budgeting all require data, but data are not valuable if they are just that and not useful. I will encourage us to prioritize data-capture related to childhood cancers and other cancers to ensure that investments in health care are well informed. For a middle-income country, every cedi we spend must be well thought through and data will enable us to so,” he said.
Vice-President Bawumia said a reduction in wastage was a key means of enabling the desired efficiency to ultimately support the sustainability of the journey that had been embarked upon.
“The government is also showing leadership and a keen commitment to address geographical access limitations through its Agenda 111 initiative and we are keen to drive this and make it a reality,” he added.
He said the desire to ensure a greater geographical spread of access to health care, especially for persons who required specialist care and medication, was the reason behind initiatives such as medical drones for the delivery of essential medical supplies, vaccines and blood and the Agenda 111 health projects.
He said those facilities that would be set up would be looking at providing all relevant and priority services and help aid improved cancer control, including childhood cancers in the country.
“It will be key for us to have standard platforms across the private and the public sectors that enable easy access and top quality data that inform work, going forward. Extraction of population-level data and their analysis will enable favourable investment and development of strategies that are directly impactful to our people,” he said.
Dr Bawumia acknowledged the efforts of the First Lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo; the Ministry of Health and the Minister, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu; the Board Chair of the NHIA and his team, the CEO of the NHIA, the World Child Cancer, Roche and all collaborators for helping to achieve the life-saving initiative.
Mr Agyeman-Manu appealed to Ghanaians to improve their lifestyles through physical activity, avoid unhealthy dietary habits, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as the smoking of cigarettes and other substances, all of which he said had been identified as risk factors for cancers and other non-communicable diseases.
“We are all advised to improve our health-seeking behaviour by reporting to healthcare facilities promptly with diseases to prevent late presentation of diseases to hospitals,” he added.
He gave an assurance that his ministry would continue to collaborate with the development and strategic partners to achieve the target of universal health coverage by 2030.
The CEO of the NHIA, Dr Bernard Okoe-Boye, for his part, said although many middle-income countries had demonstrated the commitment to providing social health care to their people, Ghana’s NHIS remained the beacon of such social intervention on the continent.
Quoting from the World Health Organisation (WHO), he said the increase in the number of children diagnosed with cancer annually was not limited to high-income countries.