A UNIVERSAL RIGHT

Ghana 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Owen Kaluwa, Country Head of the World Health Organization (WHO), on both communicable and non-communicable diseases, universal healthcare coverage, and collaboration across the sector.

 Dr. Owen Kaluwa
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Owen Kaluwa is the resident representative for WHO in Ghana. He specializes in epidemiology and preventive medicine. He has over 20 years’ work experience in public health, particularly in HIV/AIDS, epidemiological surveillance, strategic planning, program development, and monitoring and evaluation. Dr. Kaluwa joined WHO's regional office for Africa in 2002 as advisor for HIV program development. He also worked in Botswana as WHO medical officer for HIV/AIDS. Prior to his appointment as WHO representative to Ghana, Dr. Kaluwa was the WHO representative to Swaziland.

How has your effort to reduce communicable diseases progressed in the past two years?

When I took office in 2015, the country had already made considerable progress in dealing with communicable diseases, especially neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria. For example, there had been a gradual increase in the number of people with HIV put on treatment. Malaria cases have gone down considerably across all age groups. Progress continues against TB as well. We have to continue making progress in responding to these diseases if we are to attain the associated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets. If we take HIV, for example, we hope that by 2020 to have put 90% of HIV patients in the country on treatment to ensure we remain on course for ending the HIV epidemic by 2030. As of 2016, we were at 34%. This means we still have a long way to go and, thus, must intensify our efforts to address communicable diseases. These goals can only be achieved with the collaboration of all stakeholders including governments, the private sector, NGOs, civil society, and development partners.

Which WHO guidelines are improving healthcare for mental disorders in Ghana?

Over the years, the global focus on health in low to medium-income countries has been on communicable diseases, and in many instances rightly so. However, our estimates indicate that by 2030 non-communicable diseases including mental health disorders will exceed communicable diseases in terms of burden of disease. WHO has developed guidelines on improving mental health, including the Global Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2020. This has clear objectives and actions for member states to implement. In addition to that, WHO has developed a mental health gap action program to address the gap between the magnitude of mental health disorders and the capacities of health systems. One of the major issues is the lack of specialized psychiatric care at the district and community levels.

What is the best strategy to ensure health insurance gains?

One of the major priorities of WHO is universal health coverage (UHC), ensuring that all people have access to high-quality health services they need without facing financial hardship. Defining the services and health needs of people should be done, but this should come with financing mechanisms that ensure people receive the care they need. Proper strategies for financing health would allow us to do this, and national health insurance schemes like the one that has been designed for Ghana is one of the best mechanisms for ensuring that this happens. I have visited a number of districts and regions and learned that the national health insurance scheme (NHIS) is critical to health service delivery in Ghana. The government's current efforts to improve the scheme are extremely valuable and totally necessary in order to maximize the benefits. If we improve health service delivery, then we can improve health outcomes all across the country. Digital technology in health will also be extremely critical in the attainment of universal health coverage. Telemedicine, for example, would allow highly qualified specialists to provide advice and guidance for the care of patients across the country. Digital technology in health is something that we must pursue to attain UHC.

What are your expectations for 2018?

The government is finalizing the national medium-term development plan for health, the UN is finalizing its Sustainable Development Program for Ghana, and we are developing our country cooperation strategy for health that defines our priorities moving forward. 2018 will be a critical year to implement this strategy in order to firmly position ourselves on the road toward achieving our health goals in relation to SDGs. Additionally, 2018 will be critical for strengthening our capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to public health emergencies in a timely manner.