Major Courage Quashigah (rtd), Health Minister on Monday considered malaria as a serious threat to the peoples' health and the economy, stressing the need for urgent actions to prevent the disease from eroding the National Health Insurance Fund.
He told Parliament in Accra that, the estimated annual total economic cost of malaria was US$772.4 million, an equivalent to the total annual budget of
the Ministry of Health for the year 2008.
In a presentation to seek approval of the House for GHC 752.23 million for the Ministry of Health for the fiscal year 2008, Major Quashigah said the total economic cost of malaria to Ghana's economy was as colossal as acquiring 30,000 four-by-four wheel drive pick-ups within a year.
The amount can also purchase 5.5 million barrels of oil and also was more than the cost of the Bui Electrification Project, and was also equivalent to 10 per cent of Ghana's GDP growth for the year 2006.
The House approved the budget for the Ministry, and Minister gave the assurance of the Ministry to put the spread of malaria in check.
"Mr. Speaker... we will continue with the distribution of Insecticide Treated Nets and promote the Intermittent Treatment of Malaria among pregnant women as well as the proper management of those with malaria," Major Quashigah said.
According to the Minister, last year, his outfit put in place programmes to improve malaria case management in all health facilities and promoted home-based care with emphasis on symptoms detection, early treatment and intensified the use of insecticide treated nets among pregnant women and children below five years.
In a review of the National Health Insurance Scheme in 2007, the Minister said 143 schemes were currently in operation but the number is expected to increase to 148 by the end of the year.
He said Government had so far released GH¢ 140.33 million to support the NHIS programme, adding that Regional Managers had been hired and efforts were under way to engage other supporting staff.
In 2007, total registration for the Scheme grew from 8.6 to 11.2, representing 55 per cent of the population, with the Brong Ahafo Region leading with 72 per cent coverage and the Greater Accra Region the least, at 24 per cent.
Percentage statistics for the other Regions are: Northern 58; Central 55; Ashanti 51; Eastern 51; Upper West Region 47.
Members expressed concern about the lack of accurate data on maternal and child mortality and other health sector indicators rates by the Ministry and offered suggestions to make the scheme perform better.
Mr. Lee Ocran, (NDC-Jomoro) suggested proceeds from the NHIS fund be put into an investment fund, from which part could be used to generate accurate health data, including maternal and child mortality, rather than seeking donor funding to "count our dead women at delivery and children."
He also observed that the 2008 Budget statement was silent on the rehabilitation of the Korle Bu Medical Block, which he described as one of the most important facilities in the nation's premier hospital.
Alhaji Muntaka Mubarak (NDC-Asawase), who is also the Deputy Ranking Member on Health noted that the vast difference of 9.5 million, who had registered, against 5.2 million card bearing members of the scheme did not encourage people to register with the scheme.
He suggested that Government should find a way to cut Medical Refund in the Budget of Ministries Departments and Agencies as a way of compelling Government workers to register with the Scheme and called on corporate bodies to join in the Scheme.
Alhaji Mubarak queried the creation of the National Ambulance Service by the Ministry of Health without reference to Parliamentary approval, saying such action was unconstitutional and illegal.
The House also approved budgetary allocations of GHC 60.01 million for the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Private Sector Development; GHC 9.8 million for the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture, GHC 674,582 for National Labour Commission; GHC 4.98 for the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs and GHC 1.1 billion for the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, excluding the Ghana Education Trust Fund.
In a contribution on the approval of the estimates for the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, Mr Joe Gidisu (NDC- Central Tongu) suggested the creation of a Ministry of Science and Technology (S&T) Education, to encourage the study of the discipline.
He also called for the release of examination results for the promotion to the position of District Directors, which, he said, had been in limbo since the last two years.
The Sector Minister Prof. Dominic Fobih, announced that appropriate textbooks for the new educational reform would be in place next year, adding that Teacher Training Colleges, which have now assumed tertiary institution status had been properly accredited.