The World Bank has announced that the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a harsh blow to Ghana’s less wealthy and more vulnerable citizens, particularly due to the disruption of primary care in the public hospitals in the early months of the pandemic. But there are nevertheless reasons to remain positive: from President Nana Akufo-Addo’s response to the pandemic, to the fact that Ghana was the first country to receive 600,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine through the WHO’s COVAX facility. The country is even looking to future-proof the healthcare system, as evidenced by last week’s announcement that all the public health facilities in the West African republic would be digitized by the end of the year.
As well as containment and modernization measures, the fact that Ghana is faring better in recent months has a lot to do with the fact that the country has seen an uptick in foreign direct investment into its medical infrastructures, particularly by France’s Ellipse Projects and UK Export Finance. The funding couldn’t come at a more welcome time given the increased strain on the country’s health system.
A long hoped-for hospital
Ashanti is Ghana’s most populated region and is also home to over 600,000 people living in poverty. Statistics reveal that 1 in 3 children in the region suffer from stunted growth – a problem which has a knock on effect on the child’s brain and general health – due to poor diet. The older generation, too, suffer from the fact that healthcare centers are dispersed and poorly accessible, with 30% of the region forced to travel long distances in order to receive healthcare. These problems have been compounded by the fact that the rehaul of the dilapidated Bekwai Hospital ground to halt ten years ago due to lack of funds. Patients have since been redirected to the Komfo Anokye teaching hospital which has struggled under the pressure of this additional burden.
That is until the Bekwai Hospital construction site was handed to the French Engineering company Ellipse Projects in 2018. The company has found €23 million to fund the project, and within three years they had finished the infrastructure of the 120-bed, disabled-accessible hospital, fully equipped it and provided training for its healthcare workers to ensure the technology will be used correctly. In March this year, the facility became fully operative, including its first aid, accident and emergency units, surgical wards and services, a radiology unit, general consultation rooms, as well as a prenatal department (gynecology, obstetrics and pediatrics).
Another one equipped by Ellipse Projects on the horizon
Bekwai Hospital is not the only structure to benefit from foreign collaborations with Ghana’s Ministry of Health. A partnership between Ellipse Projects and Tyllium will oversee the completion of a building and its equipment of the Koforidua Regional Hospital in the Eastern region of Ghana. The €70 million contract, inked mid-2020 when the President laid the Foundation Stone, is financed by British investors, Standard Chartered Bank and UK Export Finance. With seven operating rooms, specialized care for burn victims and potential capacity of 600 beds, this hospital will be a substantial boon to Ghana’s public health sector. The Koforidua hospital will also be equipped with computing facilities, a medical waste management system that will phase out incineration, administration, conference and teaching facilities.
These foreign investments have catalyzed the completion of such long overdue development projects in Ghana. As UCL professor Ama de-Graft Aikins wrote in the New Scientist, “Covid-19 feels like just another familiar health threat” – a important factor in the way it defines approaches to tackling it. In Ghana, that approach has been informed by handling other deadly diseases such as malaria, cholera Ebola, and AIDS. And even after the vaccine ensures that the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us, these medical structures funded by Ellipse Projects will be fundamental to allow for research and training in order to better manage the country’s other public health crises.
Disease and border control are mutually dependent
But it is not just hospital funding that will save lives during this global health crisis, prevention is also key to nipping a further proliferation of Covid-19, as well as other diseases, in the bud. This is why a British High Commission project, funding Infection Prevention and Control training for Ghana’s land border officials, is an important boost to the country’s health emergency response this month. The safeguarding training will focus on a core group of border patrollers who will then pass on their learning to their teams in turn.
This is designed to ensure a coordinated approach to those wishing to enter Ghana. As noted by the programme’s director, this is important for keeping infection down since Points of Entry “form a part of the front-line efforts to ensure infection prevention and control (IPC), disease surveillance, cross-border coordination and the protection of vulnerable persons in mobility”. The workshops will consolidate the good work being carried out inside the nation, instating an organized system across Ghana’s vast border.
Global cooperation on tackling the Covid-19 virus has been far from sufficient, but efficient foreign intervention in Ghana has bucked this trend. A series of important health infrastructure investments by Ellipse Projects and the UK have shored up the work of the government, as well as encouraging Accra to direct resources in this direction. Such a virtuous cycle ensure that endemic healthcare problems are tackled once and for all, rather than just covered with a plaster.