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Why the health sector must be revamped

BY: David Apinga
Lucky Soglo
Lucky Soglo

Lucky Soglo is a Youth Leader for Health in Ghana. He does not only assist in feeding the soul as a pastor but takes an interest in the mental health of people, having graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.

His interest in volunteering and the holistic wellbeing of people has culminated into vibrant health advocacy.

His zeal got boosted after participating in a Youth Leaders for Health Advocacy training in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2020.

Nearly a year after engaging actively, he shares his thoughts on COVID-19, malaria and the impact of the December 7, 2020 elections on the future of the health sector in Ghana.

In a Question and Answer session, he proposes the way forward to improve the health sector.

Question: What are your views as a health advocate with regards to the importance of health?

Answer: It is becoming increasingly clear that making health the number one priority in any country is not an option or a choice but a must and a necessity.

Countries across the world are struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed nearly 1.5 million people with close to 64 million infections globally.

The number of people who have defeated the virus and fully recovered is 42 million as of December 3, 2020. Hospitals and health workers are overwhelmed by the numbers in the USA and other advanced countries in Europe.

The cases are not slowing down as anticipated, and some countries are experiencing a second wave amidst fresh lockdowns in jurisdictions like the United Kingdom in an attempt to control the virus.

Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and BioNTech have announced vaccines, but there is no end in sight for the contagion yet.

Christmas and the New Year are never going to be the same, and families are likely to celebrate apart.

However, Ghana has been fortunate not to have experienced high numbers of deaths or exponential new cases; neither have we suffered prolonged lockdowns. We may see this as a victory, but for many, it is a wakeup call.

We are slowly seeing increasing cases of COVID-19 by the day.

We cannot joke with the need to strengthen our health systems. COVID- 19 has exposed our weak and fragile health systems, and massive investment is essential. If we are to survive this crisis and any future ones, we need to have a robust system.

COVID-19 just hasn’t exposed our failing health sector.

It has had an enormous impact on tackling and dealing with more dangerous diseases such as malaria.

Malaria is the oldest and deadliest disease in the world. For us, in Ghana, the struggle with eradicating malaria has been the bane of health authorities for decades.

There is evidence to suggest tremendous gains to make Ghana a malaria-free country, but COVID-19 is starting to erode the little successes.

Question: Are any advocacy actions required as we move towards elections? Is there a role for the youth?

Answer: Ghana is heading to the polls to elect a president and 275 Members of Parliament to lead the country in the next four years.

Elections in Africa are essential and has a profound implication on development and growth in all sectors of the economy.

One area which has been talked about by political parties as they canvass for votes is the health sector.

Many promises are being made all in an attempt to sway voters.

The voice of the youth is critical in this year’s election.

We need to draw the attention of political leaders to the importance of strengthening health systems and investing significantly in malaria prevention, care and treatment.

Question: What activities have the Youth Leaders for Health embarked on to make this happen?

Answer: The Youth Leaders for Health in Ghana embarked on regional advocacy which involved all 11 leaders in their various regions.

We met the two major political parties who have shared the seat of government for the entire Fourth Republic of Ghana.

No other party had come close to winning even 5% of the votes since 1992 when the country returned to constitutional governance.

During the interactions, the Youth Leaders pushed for a renewed interest and their commitment to eradicating malaria by 2030.

Additionally, an open letter written by the Youth Leaders was delivered to the political leaders with the aim of influencing change and commitment to fight malaria within the first 100 days in office if any of them win power.

Over the past 11 months, Youth Leaders for Health in Ghana have been involved in all forms of advocacy with the message of halving malaria infections by 2023 and increasing domestic funding for malaria with the ultimate goal of strengthening health systems in Ghana and Africa.

We cannot remain unperturbed and watch pregnant women and children under five years die because we ignored the malaria menace.

The next generation of future leaders are looking up to the present leaders, and the decisions taken by them will be crucial to the destinies of many young people in Ghana.

Until we see that the development of a nation is linked to the development of its health sector, we cannot achieve a well-developed health care system.

Question: What do you think about leadership and governance?

Answer: Without good leadership and good governance, we cannot expect any meaningful gains.

The political leaders pledged their unflinching support to Youth Leaders after engagements. They have promised to make malaria a top priority if they win power.

This way, the nation can have a health system that responds to needs in an equitable and technologically driven manner as we collectively fight malaria and other public health threats in our quest to achieve universal health coverage.

To quote my mentor, Dr Sylvia Anie, “An advocate must be ready at all times to target key moments and audiences for heightened advocacy”.

We will be monitoring closely to see how the election unfolds and what the party in power will do to tackle malaria.

Advocacy is said to be a continuous process. So post-elections Youth Leaders will continue to speak to the issues of malaria.

Until then, the beat continues in our fight against malaria.

The Youth Leaders for Health Program is a one-year leadership development program led by Results, UK and WACI Health in collaboration with Hope for Future Generations (Ghana), CISMAT-SL (Sierra Leone), Health Promotion Tanzania - HDT and which seeks to support 25 young campaigners based in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Tanzania develop their skills and knowledge to advocate for accelerated progress to end malaria and strengthen health systems in their countries and globally.