Julie Essiam  — Acting Commissioner-General, GRA
Julie Essiam — Acting Commissioner-General, GRA
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GRA Commissioner-General intervenes: First batch HIV drugs out Friday

The first batch of drugs for the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is expected to leave the Tema Port by the close of the week.

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In all, 12 bills of lading of the pharmaceutical products donated by the Global Fund which have been locked up at the Tema Port since May last year will leave the ports by the close of this week for onward distribution to enhance the country’s fight against the three major diseases.

This follows the intervention of the Acting Commissioner-General of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), Julie Essiam, who met with the leadership of the Country Coordinating Mechanism of the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, TB & Malaria (CCM-Ghana) in a bid to resolve the impasse over the $45-million worth of pharmaceutical products locked up at the Tema Port.

Ms Essiam, at the meeting with CCM-Ghana, indicated that it was unfortunate that while an exemption had been granted for the products, there were outstanding liabilities for third party clearance fees, charges, demurrage and other penalties on the goods at the port.

Due to the non-payment of the charges, the goods have overstayed and, therefore, been forfeited into GRA custody. The commodities include Antiretrovirals (ARV) for the treatment of HIV, medications for treatment of tuberculosis (TB), Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACTs) for the treatment of malaria and insecticide treated nets (ITNs), Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits (RDTs), and GeneXpert Cartridges.

That notwithstanding, the Commissioner-General stated that GRA would work with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health to ensure that appropriate processes are followed to secure the release of the goods expeditiously.

In an interview after the meeting, Commissioner-General Essiam indicated that it was important to pay special attention where the GRA’s operations intersected with the health sector, as lives were at stake.

“It is my priority to engage consistently and meaningfully with stakeholders from all sectors, to ensure that the GRA is serving the needs of our clients not only with integrity and fairness, but also with empathy. We will continue the drive to achieve the nation’s revenue mobilisation goals with greater efficiency and empathy,” she stated.

The acting Chairman of CCM-Ghana, Ernest Amoabeng Ortsin, on behalf of the team, thanked the Commissioner-General for her proactive and solution-oriented approach, highlighting the tremendous impact that the release of the health commodities would make.

“Some health facilities are already running out of malaria Rapid Diagnostic Test Kits (RDTs), Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs), and Antiretrovirals (ARVs). In fact, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (PSGH) informed us all in a statement last month that there would be a complete stock-out of ARVs in the country by May 2024 if nothing was done to resolve the situation,” he stated.

“It goes without saying that the consequences for our fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria would be dire,” he added. “This meeting with you, Commissioner-General, is, therefore, very timely and we are satisfied with the roadmap provided for the way forward, in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Health,” Mr Ortsin said.

The Commissioner-General was accompanied to the meeting by a Deputy Commissioner, Emmanuel Ohene, and the Deputy Commissioner, Customs Operations, Kofi Baidoo, while on the side of the Global Fund programme were the Executive Secretary, CCM-Ghana, Samuel Hackman, and the Oversight Officer, COVID-19 Response Mechanism, Sidney Kweku Danso.

Coalition petitions

Meanwhile, the Coalition of CSO Network in HIV, TB and Malaria said it would stage a demonstration on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, to present a petition to the Presidency and Parliament over the continued lockup of Global Fund-donated health commodities at the Tema Port.

At a press conference in Accra yesterday, the convenors explained that the demonstration would begin at the Obra Spot at the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange at 7 a.m.  through some principal streets before presenting the petition.

The coalition explained that the commodities valued at more than $45 million had been wasting away at the port since May last year. That, they said, had created a shortage of the products in health facilities across the country and caused loss of lives and frustration to health workers.

Sign agreement

The coalition is also asking the ministries of Health and Finance to sign an agreement letter where the country must commit to contributing 15 per cent of Grant Cycle Seven (GC7) of $248 million, which translates into about $45 million, to shore up the support from the Global Fund.

They explained that the Global Fund encouraged domestic investments in health systems and the three diseases to accelerate progress to end them as public threats by 2030. “The agreement letter, which requires the signatures of the Ministers of Health and Finance, ought to have been submitted in May 2023 at the time the country was submitting the GC7 Funding Request.

“However, this letter has not been signed for the past one year and is now posing a threat to the disbursement of funds to the country,” Mr Ortsin, who is also the Lead Convener and President of the Ghana HIV and AIDS Network, said.

He called on the Presidency and Parliament to take immediate actions to prevent a public health emergency. Giving details of the situation, the Lead Convener said the Global Fund had since 2002 supported the country's national response against the three diseases to the tune of more than $1.2 billion, made available to the country in three years’ cycles.

He said the Global Fund, as part of its commitment to GC6, shipped HIV and AIDS, TB and Malaria commodities worth $45 million. Upon arrival, the government informed the Global Fund that an amount of $400,000 made available by the Fund for procurement and supply management cost was not sufficient for the clearance due to increases in port charges.

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"According to the government, the required amount in taxes, levies and port charges for the clearance of the commodities would be $3.6 million,” he said. Mr Ortsin expressed concern about the storage conditions of the commodities, stating that the medications might be expired or no longer safe for human consumption if immediate action was not taken.

The Founder and Executive Director of non-governmental organisation, Hope for Trust Generations, Cecilia Lodonu-Senoo, urged the public to get involved to push the government to facilitate the clearance of the commodities.

"We cannot just compromise the lives of people, especially the vulnerable population in this country, to die because of somebody's irresponsibility,” Mrs Lodonu-Senoo said.

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