The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has directed that the treatment of four childhood cancers be included in the benefit package of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) with immediate effect.
Those four childhood cancers — Burkitt Lymphoma, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, Wilms tumour (which starts in the kidney) and Retinoblastoma (which occurs in the eye) — constitute 60 per cent of all childhood cancer cases in the country.
Additionally, the scheme has been expanded to include family planning services, which takes effect from January 2022.
The First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, revealed this at the launch of this year’s National Health Insurance Week in Accra yesterday.
The week-long programme to create awareness of the scheme is on the theme: “NHIS: Using the Ghana Card for Expanded Health Service”.
Mrs Akufo-Addo lauded the inclusion of childhood cancers and family planning to the NHIS benefit package and described the move as a cost-effective and feasible way to increase childhood cancer survival from three out of every 10 affected children to at least six.
In Ghana, about 1,200 children under the age of 15 are estimated to develop cancer annually, and although 85 per cent of childhood cancers are curable when detected early, only about 20 to 30 per cent of patients receive treatment, often due to the high cost of diagnoses and treatment.
“Indeed, our children deserve to live long productive lives to enable them to compete successfully with other children in the world.
“Let me commend President Akufo-Addo for directing the NHIS, through the Ministry of Health, to add childhood cancers to the NHIS benefit package,” the First Lady said.
“Let me also express my profound gratitude to the Chief Executive of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) for leading her team to expand the current NHIS benefit package to include these four childhood cancers,” Mrs Akufo-Addo said.
A crusader in child health, Mrs Akufo-Addo said the initiative was life-saving because one major area of concern for many stakeholders in the treatment of childhood cancers was financing, which placed a huge burden on families.
She recounted how she had to make a commitment in 2017 to build a hostel at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital where children undergoing cancer treatment could stay with their families.
“Without this hostel, many patients may abandon treatment due to the cost of travel and other expenses. I am happy to say that last week I inaugurated the Sunshine House, a 54-bed hostel, the first of its kind in Ghana and the biggest in Africa,” she said.
She said during the inauguration of the Sunshine House, speaker after speaker called for the inclusion of childhood cancers to the NHIS benefit package, adding: “Today brings hope to our children and their families. Today is another milestone in the fight against childhood cancers.”
Unfortunately, some children would succumb to cancer, but in such situations, the state still needed to ensure quality and dignity of life for such children, Mrs Akufo-Addo said.
“We need to have centres dedicated to making life bearable for terminal patients, where we can also provide psychosocial support for affected families,” she said.
The Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, said the national digitalisation agenda, particularly the linkage of the Ghana Card to the NHIA, would contribute immensely to the government’s commitment to make quality healthcare services accessible and affordable to all residents of Ghana.
“The ongoing merger of the NHIS and the Ghana cards is commendable. I urge all holders of the two cards to do the merger now and use one card to access health care. What is key for us today is leveraging the use of the Ghana Card for healthcare access,” he said.
Mr Agyeman-Manu said the government, since assuming office in 2017, had consistently supported the operations of the NHIS.
“The government commends the NHIA management over the recent prompt payment of claims to credentialed service providers to keep them in business. As a government, we will continue to ensure that NHIS finances are released on time to solve the problem of unpaid bills to healthcare providers,” he said.
The Chief Executive Officer of the NHIA, Dr Lydia Dsane-Selby, said this year’s NHIS Week was the second of many more to come.
“It is a week in which we aim to celebrate the development of the scheme, project our progress and try to move forward with the goal that all persons in Ghana will have access to health care under the NHIS,” she said.
“The celebration last year provided us with the opportunity to register and renew 750,000 people.. It was, indeed, a successful event, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.
She said the NHIS began to campaign to increase NHIS membership last year with the linkage of the NHIS and the Ghana cards through mobile technology.
“We sought and continue to seek renewed interest in the NHIS. This year, we continue with the momentum from this digital inclusion to include every resident with the Ghana Card on the NHIS,” she said.
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