The first patient I interacted with at the municipal hospital opened my eyes to problem of health insurance that is prevalent throughout Ghana.
When I met her, Erica, an 8 month old who had arrived at the hospital unconscious and seizing from severe malaria, was a healthy, laughing infant who had been discharged for over a week. However, because Erica did not have health insurance, and her mother did not have the money to pay the 250 cedi hospital bill, Erica remained in the hospital for 3 weeks after she was discharged. During that time, she once again contracted malaria, a tragically common occurrence due to the large volume of both malaria patients and mosquitoes in the children’s ward.
Unfortunately, Erica’s story is a familiar one. Many children in Ghana, particularly in the rural villages, do not have health insurance. Terrified by daunting medical bills, parents are less willing to seek professional medical care for their children when they fall ill. Instead, they nurse their children with herbal remedies, which although successful at alleviating certain symptoms, have not proven to be an effective means of treatment. These children are then rushed to the nearest hospital when, as Erica did, they fall dangerously ill. Delaying professional care not only exponentially raises the cost of treatment, it also increases mortality.
Lack of health insurance should not be such a devastating problem in Ghana. Unlike the US, the Ghanaian government is the sole health insurance provider. Through the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), it only costs 4 cedi, the equivalent of $2 US, to insure a child for one year.
During the time I have spent at the municipal hospital, at community clinics and at rural outreaches, I have continually felt helpless to make a concrete change. I cannot do emergency surgery to save a woman bleeding to death from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, I cannot convince the hospital staff to isolate a woman suffering from TB so that she does not infect the HIV patients with whom she shares a room.
Providing health insurance to children in need is something that I am able to do. With the help of my friends and family, I plan on providing health insurance to the 300 uninsured children in Hodzo Ga, a rural agricultural village near where I am staying in the Volta region.
This Friday, August 10, accompanied by a community nurse and an NHIS official, I will be going to Hodzo Ga to register children for health insurance. I am in the process of creating a fundraising website to provide a straightforward, transparent way for those interested to donate to the campaign. As soon as the site is done, I will post it here. In the meantime, I want to get the word out and encourage others to do the same.