The trip’s purpose was to learn about the effects of, and challenges for, Norwegian global health assistance as well as to meet the country’s Minister of Health and members of the Parliament of Ghana.
The committee travelled north of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to visit health institutions. These field visits shed light on the challenges of fighting tuberculosis, malaria and HIV as well as the challenges that minority groups face despite the positive economic developments in the country.
Hospital and clinic field visits
Visits to hospitals and clinics topped the agenda during the committee’s stay in Ghana. At Nsawam Government Hospital, north of Accra, the Storting’s representatives learned about the area’s the major health challenges. They saw first-hand how the hospital’s information outreach and child vaccination efforts help to combat the country’s most widespread and infectious diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.
With support provided by the vaccination programme, the committee observed how vaccinations, which are free for children, are provided efficiently and methodically despite simple equipment and limited resources. It was explained that the main challenge was reaching the entire population, especially in areas where scattered settlements and poor roads complicate follow-up.
“It was overwhelming to see how many women were waiting in the vaccine queue with their babies, and how efficient the vaccination process was,” says Anniken Huitfeldt (Labour Party), who chairs the committee. “The medical personnel seemed well drilled. Hospital administrators showed us the facilities and were clearly proud of the results they have achieved in vaccinations and preventive health. I can understand why! It was great to see how Norwegian assistance is making a difference in such an important field.”
The committee also visited a church and clinic that provided easily accessible services to mothers and children, including vaccination and weighing of babies.
The main storage facility for vaccines in Ghana is at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra. The committee received a guided tour of the cold storage areas and learned about the vaccine delivery system, which is run by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Achieving the goal of vaccinating 1.2 million children per year will require successful information campaigns, additional healthcare personnel to reach the population and twice as many freezers for the vaccines.
The health personnel visited by the committee also provided information on sexually transmitted infections (STI), birth control, hygiene and nutrition. In some cases, at-risk groups have little knowledge of how infections spread. Minimising contagion risk was the main focus of workers at the institutions visited.
During a meeting with the Ghana-West Africa Program to Combat AIDS and STI (WAPCAS), the committee spoke with representatives of stigmatised minorities, such as prostitutes, people with HIV and gay sex workers. Although prostitution and homosexuality are not illegal in Ghana, some people were said to be harassed and persecuted by public officials.
“For the sex workers we met, it was crucial to ensure they avoid contracting a serious illness or infecting other people, and that contraceptive knowledge and use are available to them. Importantly, they must also get vaccines and treatment for the diseases they get. This is preventative and life-saving treatment, both for themselves and their customers,” says Ingjerd Schou (Conservative Party).
“It is impressive work, done by volunteers with the support of the authorities!” she adds. “Women and men alike told us directly and openly about the importance of the services and the knowledge they received concerning contraception and treatment.”
The committee’s field visits and interactions with the civilian population provided a solid basis for a meeting on Day Two with the country’s Minister of Health. Ghana seeks to escape from aid dependency and has set a goal of a “Ghana beyond aid”, but the minister emphasised that the country’s strategy is long term and much remains to be done. The fact that 5–10 per cent of trained nurses emigrate, especially to the United States and the United Kingdom, is a serious challenge.
In a meeting with the Parliament of Ghana’s Foreign Affairs Committee, emphasis was placed on the country’s good cooperation with Norway – not only through the vaccine assistance programme but through the Oil for Development, Fish for Development and Tax for Development programmes, which are important in promoting sustainable Ghanaian economic growth. Regional development was another topic of discussion.
The visit to Ghana concluded with briefings from UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Heath Organization, UNICEF, UNAIDS and the United National Population Fund. The topics included assistance coordination and the best ways for the UN system and global funds to cooperate for the benefit of recipient countries.
Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.