In the first part of our publication, The Fourth Estate chronicled the story of parents who continue to pay for the cost of treatment of childhood cancers of their wards despite the government’s promise that it was being covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme.
In this part, we tell the stories of how non-governmental organisations and hospitals lost funding as a result of the announcement.
When Ghana’s First Lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, announced the enrolment of childhood cancer treatment onto the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in November 2021, it was a time for jubilation for individuals who find it difficult to bear the high cost of treatment.
But Gloria Abla Pwamang, the founder of the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Wesoamo Child Cancer Foundation, felt it was a ‘political statement.’
“Currently, we are even paying for some who have leukaemia but they also don’t want to come out [to complain] because it is political talk,“ Ms Pwamang added.
She said international donors that supported the NGO’s work have withdrawn their support for the treatment of childhood cancer. Ms Pwamang told The Fourth Estate that since the announcement, the NGO has supported about five children although it could have done more with more funding.
She said: “That particular year, the donor support was reduced. So, for me, I don’t know what the insurance covers. Since September, we have paid between GH₵7,000.00 and GH₵ 10,000.00 [per child] for treatment and we currently have about five of such children under our care.”
Ms Pwamang said some of the donors have resumed their support for the NGO after a few months of observation “but this is being done with another layer of verification.” The donors now visit the hospitals to make enquiries about patients’ cost of treatment before they make any commitment.
The Wesoamo Child Cancer Foundation is not the only NGO that relies on donor funding to support childhood cancer patients.
The Greater Accra Regional Hospital also relies on donor funding to treat children with cancer, including the four types of childhood cancer listed by the NHIA as covered by Ghana’s national health insurance. A specialist paediatrician at the hospital, who prefers to remain anonymous, told The Fourth Estate that most of the hospital donors withdrew their funding support, thereby, reducing the number of people the hospital is able to support in a year.
“We have lived on the generosity of corporate institutions to treat our patients, so, as soon as the announcement was made, getting donors have become extremely difficult. That was one of our biggest fears. Now, there is an announcement that it [childhood cancer] is being covered [by the health national insurance] and for months now, at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital, we have not had any significant donor support to buy medication and we have new patients coming in. It’s a big challenge for us,” the specialist paediatrician at the hospital said.
She added: “For months now, no donor support but it used to be every month. If it continues, we will stop accepting children into the hospital. Health workers here have become fundraisers. It is a matter of urgency.”
She said taxes on cancer drugs made the prices of medications expensive.
“Chemotherapy drugs on the market are expensive because the Ministry of Health does not import them. Asparaginase was GHS 3,750.00 but within a few months, it is selling at GH8,000.00, making it difficult for the hospital to stock drugs from the pharmaceutical shops.”
Asparaginase is a chemotherapy drug. It is used for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
“Healthcare has been commercialised and that is why we are suffering,” she said.
Lifeline for Childhood Cancer
The Lifeline for Childhood Cancer, led the advocacy for the enrolment of the four types of childhood cancer onto the NHIS and continues to support parents of children with cancer.
The Executive Director for the Lifeline for Childhood Cancer, Akua Sarpong, told The Fourth Estate that the government’s decision to enroll childhood cancer onto the NHIS was important because Ghana’s survival rate for childhood cancer is 20-30%. She said, “unlike adult cancers, childhood cancer hasn’t got any specific symptoms because, unfortunately, childhood cancer mimics all other childhood illnesses.”
She confirmed the assertion made by parents that the insurance does not cover all services.
“The insurance is not comprehensive. It covers some diagnostics. There is treatment but it doesn’t cover all the drugs,” she said.
Ms Sarpong added that Lifeline Childhood Cancer was paying for costs for treating children with cancer not covered by the national health insurance.
The President of the Childhood Cancer Society of Ghana, Prof Renner Awo Lorna, indicated that discussions were still ongoing with some individuals and institutions to ensure that cancer medicines imported by the country made significant progress in childhood cancer treatment since the enrolment of childhood cancer onto the national health insurance. She was quick to add that there was more that needed to be done to improve the situation.
She said stakeholders are engaging some pharmaceutical companies to import quality chemotherapy drugs at affordable prices and were also pushing for the government to scrap taxes on cancer drugs.
Prof Lorna recommended that other types of childhood cancer be covered by the NHIS to ensure access to all.
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