Dr Beatrice Wiafe-Addai, the Chairperson of the Ghana NCD Alliance (GhNCDA), has made some recommendations to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health for consideration to help reduce non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Ghana.
She called for the reconsideration of the current restriction time on advertisement of alcoholic beverages from 2000 to 0600 hours, at which time, she said most children below 18 years were yet to sleep; and that vaccination against cervical cancer be initiated for Ghanaian girls as it is done in Rwanda and Zambia.
Others are that existing policies on tobacco and alcohol be strengthened and strictly enforce while the Ministry of Information’s social handles be used intermittently to share preventive measures against NCDs.
The rest are that regular community sensitization and screening be prioritized to avoid late detection of NCDs; that healthcare professionals are to be reeducated on NCDs, especially at the community levels; and that palliative care is made available and affordable for people living with NCDs.
Dr Wiafe-Addai made the recommendations when the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health engaged the leadership of the GhNCDA to dialogue on the way forward in addressing the gaps and challenges in the increasing prevalence of NCDs in Ghana.
She put before the Committee the four modifiable NCD risk factors namely; tobacco use, unhealthy diet choices, physical inactivity and alcohol use and said the factors were the leading cause of the NCD prevalence in Ghana and the world at large.
Dr Wiafe-Addai debunked the notion that NCDs were more prevalent among affluent countries as 2019 statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that 85 per cent of premature NCD deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries like Ghana.
The Chairperson commended the efforts made by the government of Ghana in response to the rising incidences of NCDs by hosting the International Strategic Dialogue (ISD) on NCDs in collaboration with the government of Norway and the WHO in April, this year.
Mr Labram Musah, the National Coordinator of the GhNCDA, outlined the key issues that have somewhat dwindled efforts made against NCDs in Ghana.
He mentioned inadequate resource allocation for NCDs prevention and control as one of the major reasons for the lack of progress in addressing the disease menace in the country.
Mr Musah further stated that another factor was the low level of commitment showed by the government to increase taxes on tobacco, saying the increase in tobacco taxes was last announced in the 2014 national budget and that due to the low taxes, a single stick of cigarette was sold on the average at 30 pesewas or less; this has increased consumption among children and poor people due to its affordability and accessibility.
He, therefore, called for urgent compliance with the WHO and the 2017 ECOWAS Directives for the Member States to shift from the current ad-valorem tax system to a mixture of ad-valorem and specific tax structures.
Mr Musah stated that the mixture of both tax structures had proven to be very beneficial in countries that had implemented them and that it leads to a reduction in consumption of tobacco due to the increased retail prices, health outcomes were improved and it served as a sustainable source of revenue for the government.
On alcohol consumption by the youth and its indiscriminate advertisement, he called on the government to hasten efforts towards finalizing the regulations considering the many harms that the use of alcohol causes to the consumer while urging for the reduction of the production of sugar-sweetened beverages, which were the major contributors to rising rates of childhood obesity, heart diseases, cognitive decline and other forms of diet-related NCDs.
Mr Musah made the following recommendations that the school’s environment was regulated to prevent unhealthy foods and drinks both in and outside of the school to protect the children from early NCDs.
That shisha, a new trend of smoking among the youth in the second-cycle and tertiary institutions be banned in Ghana; stating that countries like Rwanda, Cameroon and Kenya have banned shisha for health reasons.
That the involvement of people living with NCDs in the government’s NCD responses be prioritized in all aspects of decisions that affect them directly or indirectly; and that most of the NCD medications be enlisted on the National Health Insurance Scheme benefit package.
Dr Nana Ayew Afriyie, the Chairman of the Health Committee, in an address, said NCDs have gained the world’s attention as the most pressing health need; hence, it was expedient that Ghana aligned swiftly with the shift.
The Health Committee resolved that it would engage the Ministry of Health to get more insights on the national NCD response, including an update on the alcohol regulations and that the GhNCDA should send regular NCD statements to the Committee for consideration.
It also called for a quarterly press briefing between the GhNCDA and the Parliamentary Health Committee to discuss diverse NCD topics as a way of initiating a nationwide conversation on the diseases; and that a report on obesity among Ghanaian children be submitted by the GhNCDA to initiate the national discussion about the prevalence and the way forward in Ghana.