Dr Justice Yankson, General Secretary of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), says Ghana needs to constantly build the capacity of the health workforce and upgrade health infrastructure as a way of preparing for epidemics.
He said the country needed a plan on raising funds to beef up the capacity of the healthcare system to meet the demands of the public before, during and after epidemics.
He told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that, occasionally when Ghana experienced epidemics, the inadequacies of the health sector were exposed depending on the level or magnitude of the disease outbreak.
“In terms of our preparedness for epidemics, COVID-19 has really shown us the way, at the time it happened we were ill-prepared and even as of today our level of preparedness is not up to that of other countries,” he said.
Dr Yankson said although Ghana’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic had been impressive, some lessons needed to be learnt from the global pandemic to strengthen national response to future epidemics.
“Epidemic preparedness is not solely about saving or mobilizing funds, it involves building the capacity of health workers and health institution to man the unplanned health needs of the people,” he said.
He said funds were required to build the capacity of health workers and institutions to be prepared for epidemics.
He stressed that if the government did not build the capacity of the health workforce before epidemics, allocated funds alone might not help address disease outbreaks.
“There should be a plan for the use of any allocated funding for epidemic preparedness to ensure that it meets the intended outcomes,” he said.
The GMA Secretary observed that at the time Ghana recorded its first case of COVID-19, the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) and the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research were the only public institutions equipped to test for suspected cases, but with time, testing for the virus scaled up, and other public and private laboratories came on board.
Dr Yankson said if labs testing for the virus now had the capacity to do so then, the initial issues of delayed testing and results could be averted.
He called for the establishment of a modern Centre for Disease Control in Ghana as well as the establishment of infectious disease centres in all the 16 regions.
“We should be building our capacity in all aspects, as well as saving and allocating funds for epidemic preparedness, our level of preparedness should be such that we have the infrastructure and the ability to produce what we need during epidemics,” Dr Yankson said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this year inaugurated a new hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, based in Berlin in efforts to better prepare for disease infections and protect the world.
The hub is expected to be key to efforts in leveraging innovations in data science for public health surveillance and response and create systems where countries can share and expand expertise in epidemic response.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General, said the world needed to detect new events with pandemic potential and to monitor disease control measures on a real-time basis to create effective pandemic and epidemic risk management.
He said the WHO Hub, which was receiving an initial investment of US$100 million from the Federal Republic of Germany, will harness broad and diverse partnerships across many professional disciplines, and the latest technology, to link the data, tools and communities of practice so that actionable data and intelligence were shared.
Mr Joel Abekuliya, Health Promotion Officer at the Health Promotion Unit of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), also said that the frequency and severity of epidemics in Ghana over the last 20 years demanded that Ghana planned for pandemics by expanding the health infrastructure and push for medicine and vaccine manufacturing in Ghana.
He stressed the need for funds to be allocated to facilitate communication with the public during pandemics, saying “People need to be aware of health issues on time and know how to manage and protect themselves”.
A sustainable source of funding for epidemic preparedness and response activities was through annual national budgetary allocations.
He called for the establishment of a strong stakeholder collaboration from the community to national level for easy dissemination of information during health uncertainties.