Ghana

Over the past 25 years, the number of people worldwide with access to essential medicines has more than doubled. Yet more than 30 percent of the world’s population still does not have reliable access to essential medicines.

Over 100 practitioners and global health experts are gathering in Accra, Ghana for the First Annual Pan-African Congress on Universal Health Coverage, Nov. 15-17. The conference will focus on creating a movement for universal health coverage in Africa through health insurance.

A child born in Ghana today will most likely receive a full schedule of immunizations, and her chances of surviving past the age of five are far better than they were a decade ago. Today Ghana boasts a coverage rate for infant vaccination of 90 percent and hasn’t seen an infant die of measles since 2003.

Ghana has been expanding primary health care by bringing services to people’s doorsteps since the 1980s, and since the early 2000s has done so in the context of a commitment to universal health coverage. The secret to its success in child immunization has been both integration and decentralization of health services: Government funding for all health activities is provided through a "common pot." District-level managers are responsible for local budgeting and service delivery. Local staff provide comprehensive rather than specialized care.

Ghana is one of a growing number of low- and middle-income countries demonstrating that strong performance in immunization can go hand-in-hand with the aspiration of universal health coverage, access for all to appropriate health services at an affordable cost.

Safoura Amadu and her son Ibrahim

Safoura Amadu is the 19 year-old mother of Ibrahim, who was born preterm on March 8, 2011 at 1.46 kg (3.2 pounds). Baby Ibrahim did not grow well in his first days of life. Safoura was very worried---her first child had died at birth---and she did not want to lose Ibrahim, her second child. Safoura sought help and when Ibrahim was ten days old she and the baby were admitted to the new Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) center at the Maternité Issakha Gazoby in Niger. Ibrahim’s weight had dropped to 1.07 kg (2.35 pounds).

The KMC center cared for Safoura and her child by showing Safoura how to take two simple, lifesaving measures: provide skin-to-skin contact for Ibrahim, by wrapping his unclothed body directly to her bare chest, and breastfeeding him exclusively. After 47 days at the KMC Centre, Safoura and two month-old Ibrahim were released to go home. Ibrahim weighed 2.12 kgs (4.67 pounds).

There have been a collection of high-profile and well attended mobile health (mHealth) “summits” held around the world in the past few years, including last month’s second annual mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. (headlined by Bill Gates and Ted Turner), but the really interesting conversations are happening on the African continent. While large providers in the “developed world” are talking about the need for business plans and analysis, the debate in Kenya and Nigeria and Ghana is on how country-based leadership can scale up proven programs, develop sustainability, and provide practical and integrated models for cooperation between the government, mobile service providers, the medical community and the private sector.

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