Child vaccines caught up in cedi depreciation woes — Expert blames poor prioritisation
THE steep fall in the value of the cedi has made it difficult for the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to finance adequate vaccine imports for children, resulting in a nationwide shortage that has dire consequences on the well-being of the little ones.
It also raises concerns about the country’s priorities when it comes to spending as fuel and other essentials did not suffer shortages similar to what is emerging around the importation of the child vaccines.
Estimates show that it costs the country about US$10 million to import the vaccines needed to curb tuberculosis (TB) disease, oral polio, Measles, Meningitis and Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) among babies from birth to 18 months.
However, the more than 50 per cent decline in the value of the cedi against the US dollar, among other currencies in the middle of last year means that the GHS had to pay more for the same quantities of supplies.
With funding almost static, the Director-General of the GHS, Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said last Friday that the service was unable to pay for the right volumes, leading to the shortage.
The challenge extends to syringes used to administer the vaccinations, Dr Kuma-Aboagye admitted in an interview with Accra-based CITI FM.
“There are three key traditional vaccines that we ran out towards the end of the year. We were to procure the first quarter of 2023’s consignment in the fourth quarter of 2022 but due to the currency fluctuations, the amount of funds that were available in cedis could not meet up.”
“So, orders are being made now and we expect that within the next two to three weeks, we will be able to catch up,” the DG said.
The vaccines are a must for babies meant to prevent polio, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B (DPT/Hep B/ Hib 1, among other six infectious diseases that are particularly dangerous to the infants.
Medical experts say their shortage poses serious risks to babies and the successes chalked up under the childhood diseases vaccination programme.
Beyond the health risks, the situation brings to the fore the quality of policy choices under a biting economic crisis that has been exemplified by the steep decline in the value of the currency and a record high inflation rate of 53.6 per cent in January, on lives and livelihoods.
Economist with GCB Capital, Courage Kwesi Boti, said the shortage showed the level of priority the country placed on such vaccines.
“Yes, there is depleted reserves but we still import fuel, don’t we? For me, it is a matter of what is our priority,” Mr Boti, who said his daughter was a victim of the situation, said.
“This import bill for vaccines is nowhere close to even fraction of what we spend on oil or any of the other essential imports.”
“So, yes acknowledging the currency problems, we still could have treated it with some urgency if we considered it as a priority and so it is a matter of where it falls in our scale of preference,” he said.
With a perennial revenue underperformance challenge, Ghana stepped up its appetite for debt in recent years in an attempt to fund audacious expenditure inspired by election promises.
The Eurobond and the domestic market became the refuge as the country tried to borrow its way out of the challenges.
The result was an unsustainable debt and a generally weakened economy that was later worsened by the COVID19 pandemic and its effects as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The inability to borrow in 2022 then meant that the country’s reserves, which were funded by costly loans, suffered hefty declines, thereby exposing the cedi to steep declines.
At the peak of the depreciation around August last year, the local currency lost up to 60 per cent of its value to the US dollar before steadying to an annual depreciation of 30.1 per cent.