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2021 Budget review: COVID-19 and health sector in focus

2021 Budget review: COVID-19 and health sector in focus
LISTEN JUL 29, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the need for more money to be injected into the health sector.

The Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta is expected to present the 2021 mid-year budget review in Parliament today, July 29, 2021.

He is expected to touch on various parts of the economy that need to be reviewed to meet the demands of the time.

Ghanaians expect the Minister to among other things capture measures put in place by the government to procure more vaccines for the country as COVID-19 cases skyrocket.

Ghanaians will also be expecting the budget to update them on processes put in place to build various district hospitals promised by the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

It will be recalled that in the main budget presented in March 2021, an amount of €890 million was said to have been set aside by the government for the construction of 33 major health projects in the country.

The Caretaker Minister of Finance, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu at the time indicated that these projects are part of the state's grand agenda to managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

“33 major health projects have been approved for implementation at a cost of €890 million”, he said, adding among other things that despite the unexpected increase in government's expenditure due to the outbreak, it is committed to carrying out these projects.

It was also announced that in pursuit of the government's health infrastructure drive, including Agenda 111, the Health Ministry awarded contracts for the construction of 101 district hospitals, seven regional hospitals, and three Psychiatric Hospitals.

Other health infrastructure projects earmarked to be continued for the year under review included the Koforidua Regional Hospital, Shama District Hospital, La General Hospital and Tema Regional Hospital.

The rest are the reconstruction of the Central Medical Store, District Hospital in Nkoranza, and the Accident and Emergency Center Dormaa Hospital.

Updates on these major healthcare projects are expected to be high on the agenda.

COVID-19 Health Levy

A COVID-19 levy was introduced to cater for the increasing state expenditure brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The newly proposed levy was a one percentage point increase on both the existing VAT Flat Rate Scheme (VFRS) and National Health Insurance Levy (NHIL).

Monies accrued from the imposition of the levy were to go into the construction of health infrastructure, recruitment of more health personnel, vaccination programme and address other challenges in a bid to manage the COVID-19 outbreak in the country because expenditure on health infrastructure and health-related items such as vaccines, hospital supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) have become routine.

Some of the measures being implemented by the Government to address this pandemic using the Levy include:

1. Procurement, distribution and administration of vaccines ‒ the first batch of 600,000 doses from the COVAX Facility have already been delivered and an additional 17,600,000 vaccine doses were to be delivered by June, with more to come in the course of the year.

2. Establishment of 14 medical waste treatment facilities across the country for safe disposal of medical waste in collaboration with the private sector.

3. Thirty-three major health projects approved for implementation at a cost of €890 million; To date, 14,600,000 pieces of personal protective equipment produced domestically and distributed to health workers, students, teaching and non-teaching staff of tertiary and secondary educational institutions.

3. Fumigation and disinfection of public places including, airports, markets, schools, hospitals, offices etc;

4. Agenda 111 ‒ the construction of 100-bed District Hospitals in 101 Districts with no hospitals, 7 Regional Hospitals for the new Regions, including one for the Western Region, the construction of 2 new psychiatric hospitals for the Middle and Northern Belts, respectively, and the rehabilitation of Effia Nkwanta Hospital in the Western Region.

5. The need to recruit more health care professionals, in addition to the 100,000 recruited in the first term of the President.

Rising cases, vaccines administered

The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has said 1,271,393 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered so far. Out of that number, 865, 422 persons have received a single jab, whereas 405, 971 people have received their full dose of two jabs.

There has been a surge in Ghana's COVID-19 case count in the month of July, with more than 4,000 new cases recorded. This has sparked concerns about a looming third wave of COVID-19 in Ghana.

But with the upsurge in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country and the seeming challenges in the country’s vaccination drive, there is the need for more public resources through higher budgetary allocation is crucial for the improvement of the health sector.

Audit of COVID-19 expenses

The civil society group, SEND Ghana, has called on the government to set aside a fund in the budget to finance Ghana's epidemic preparedness as it continues the fight against COVID-19.

That’s not all, it has also asked the Ministry of Finance to provide quarterly briefs on COVID-19 spending from all its sources.

The organization says such updates will aid proper financial monitoring and ensure value for money and transparency.

At a workshop on the theme; managing COVID-19 funds, the Accountability Gap, a representative of SEND Ghana, Sandra Kwabea Sarkwah called for a forensic audit of all COVID-19 related expenditures.

“Our study sought to give a broader idea of how the government is faring in terms of budget implementation, formulation and auditing as far as COVID-19 related expenses are concerned. In cases where you want to identify these fiscal data, execution, and spending rates- the study identified that some of these pieces of information were lagging.”

“As of the time we were collecting that data in the first quarter of the year, information that was supposed to be available for that quarter was not there. So it is one area we want to recommend, especially when people want to track and monitor those spending,” she added.

---citinewsroom

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