A nurse attending to a patient in one of the health facilities supported by Japan at Anyaa, a community in Accra. Photo @UNDP Ghana

Universal health coverage (UHC), which ensures that people can access a full range of quality health services without facing financial hardship, is a paramount goal for health care delivery. Embedded within the Sustainable Development Goals, UHC reflects the affirmation that health is both a driver and outcome of sustainable development. 

In Ghana, the enduring partnership between the Government of Japan and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has played a crucial role in supporting the country's journey towards achieving UHC and human security.

As highlighted in the  2022 UNDP Special Report on Human Security, health, human development and human security are interconnected. Fundamental rights, including quality of life and livelihoods cannot be achieved without guaranteeing human security. With support from the Government of Japan, UNDP has implemented several projects in Ghana that aim at building resilient and sustainable health systems and improving access to health services, contributing towards progress on UHC and human security. 

On 8th December 2023, UNDP Ghana welcomed a visit by Ambassador Takeshi AKAHORI, the Director-General for Global Issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. 

Ambassador AKAHORI conducted a field trip to the Kotoka International Airport to observe the operation of a mobile laboratory aimed at strengthening the country’s pandemic preparedness. Through the project “Strengthening Community Health Systems to Support the Continuity of Essential Services for the Vulnerable During and Post Pandemic of COVID-19,” mobile laboratories have been established at the country’s four main points of entry – Aflao, Elubo, Paga and Kotoka International Airport. The project is supported by Japan and implemented together with the Ghana Health Service. 

Ambassador AKAHORI conducted a field trip to the Kotoka International Airport to observe the operation of a mobile laboratory provided with Japan's support. Photo @Abdul-Rahim Naa Abdul-Lahie/ UNDPGhana

During his visit to the mobile laboratory at Kotoka International Airport, Ambassador AKAHORI said: “Here, we are at the frontline of universal health coverage and human security. Japan is very proud to be able to make these projects possible.” He emphasized the role that Japan plays as a strong champion for UHC and human security.

Ambassador Takeshi AKAHORI, the Director-General for Global Issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan speaking to health partners at the mobile lab at the Kotoka International Airport. Photo @Abdul-Rahim Naa Abdul-Lahie/ UNDPGhana

Another key initiative arising out of the Government of Japan-UNDP collaboration that is driving progress towards strong, resilient health systems in Ghana is the Access and Delivery Partnership (ADP). Led by UNDP, ADP partners – UNDP, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) and PATH – work together to deliver technical and capacity building support to low- and middle-income countries to scale up equitable access to health technologies for tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

“Achieving UHC and enhancing human security would be impossible without guaranteeing access to new health technologies, especially for the most vulnerable. It is against this backdrop that the Government of Japan’s continued support and funding for the Access and Delivery Partnership has been so instrumental,” noted Sukhrob Khoshmukhamedov, the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Ghana.

Sukhrob Khoshmukhamedov, the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Ghana speaking at the mobile lab during the visit of Ambassador Takeshi AKAHORI, the Director-General for Global Issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Photo @Abdul-Rahim Naa Abdul-Lahie/ UNDPGhana

In Ghana, ADP is supporting health systems strengthening efforts, including strengthening key health system functions to enable effective introduction of new health technologies. With ADP’s support, the SAVING Consortium (Sustainable Access and Delivery of New Vaccines in Ghana) brings together key national stakeholders, including the Ghana Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service, to jointly plan for the introduction of the RTS,S malaria vaccine. The SAVING Consortium adopts multisectoral and implementation research approaches to identify and address barriers to the effective introduction of the malaria vaccine.   

Health workers with the Ghana Health Service organize a community immunization session where the RTS,S vaccine is delivered alongside other routine vaccines. Photo: Ghana Health Service.

Efforts to achieve UHC in Ghana have gained significant momentum through ADP’s support in institutionalizing health technology assessment (HTA) in the country. HTA is a multidisciplinary process to evaluate, select and implement health technologies; this facilitates evidence-based decision making and provides a means of ensuring cost-effectiveness and sustainability of UHC. 

The UNDP-led ADP has also supported the digitization of drug safety surveillance in Ghana, through the introduction of the Safety Watch System, a national electronic management system for individual case safety reports, and more recently, MedSafety, a mobile application that facilitates fast and direct community reporting of possible adverse drug reactions. Together, the systems increased related reporting by over 30 percent between 2016 and 2019. 

To support Ghana’s goal of prevention and eradication of NTDs, ADP collaborated with the National Buruli Ulcer Control and Yaws Eradication Programme to conduct yaws case searches in remote areas, including piloting the use of a mobile app to support NTD case detection by health care workers and developing an NTD investment case to support advocacy for improved funding for NTDs. 

Students at a school in West Akim, Ghana are screened for skin lesions and tested for yaws. Photo: Nii Armah Solomon

ADP has also supported efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Ghana FDAso that it can play its key role in ensuring the quality, safety and efficacy of health technologies. The development of institutional development plans has helped to guide the continuous improvement and strengthening of the Ghana FDA. In 2020, the Ghana FDA attained the WHO benchmark of “maturity level 3” for its regulatory oversight, indicating a stable, well-functioning and integrated regulatory system.

Ambassador AKAHORI's visit was an opportunity to showcase the tangible outcomes of the Japan-UNDP partnership in Ghana. The partnership has not only provided the technical support for a strengthened health system but also reinforces the commitment to resilient, inclusive health care – a vital step towards health and human security in Ghana.

This article was originally published in https://www.undp.org/ghana/