By Bernice Bessey
The Deputy Minister for Health, Alexander Kwodwo Kom Abban, says talks are ongoing with the relevant stakeholders, including the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), to introduce ‘sin’ tax on some unhealthy commodities like tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetener beverages among others.
This is to ensure that consumables that expose citizens to health dangers are restricted on the market, since they are known to be the major contributors to Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), which contribute to 43 percent of all deaths in the country.
Mr Kom Abban made the statement at the official launch of the advocacy of people living with NCDs in Accra yesterday.
According to him: “As we know from overseas experience, this kind of tax is assisting greatly in reducing the consumption of these products, and we think they are a key tool for reducing the NCD burden and pressures on the NHIS.”
He added that efforts are also being made to ensure that treatment of some NCDs are captured under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), as a way to alleviate the burden on people living with NCDs, with regard to economic cost and access to healthcare.
This, he said, falls in line with the Ministry’s initiative to ensure universal health coverage for all.
He said NCDs are the number one cause of death and disability worldwide today, killing 41 million people each year, and the burden of these diseases is rising among lower income countries and populations, of which Ghana is not an exception.
In 2016, over three quarters of NCD deaths (31.5 million) occurred in low and middle-income countries, with about 46% of the deaths occurring before the age of 70 years.
“I am happy to say that Ghana is, in fact, responding to the challenges and is making some progress on strengthening policy response to NCDs, notably legislation on tobacco control, accompanied by a 175 % tax increase on these products, a National Alcohol Policy, a National Cancer Strategy, and a National Policy and Strategy on Prevention and Control of Chronic NCDs,” he added.
The Deputy Minister said the Ministry was also developing a primary health care policy, which will seek to ensure that the Universal Health Coverage, which is a foundation of primary health care, is accessible without financial hardship.
Efua Commey, NCD Programmes Manger at the Ghana Health Service (GHS), added that NCDs are the top 10 causes of death in all health facilities in the country.
She said, previously, Ghana had what was known as double burden of disease, but the situation has aggravated to triple burden, that includes maternal deaths, infectious diseases and Non-Communicable Diseases.
Her fears were that risk factors, especially the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and junk foods, are the contributors of NCDs, often considered as lifestyle diseases.
Laura Musah, National Coordinator for Ghana NCD Alliance, appealed to the government to increase the tariff on alcohol, for it to be used for the treatment of patients suffering Non-Communicable Diseases such as stroke, hypertension and diabetes among others.
His argument was that treatment of these diseases is very expensive, and they are also not listed on the NHIS.