So it emerged that parliamen by a majority decision approved an agreement to allow the use of drones to distribute essential drugs and blood to health facilities across the country. The deal has been projected to cost some $12.5 million for four years.
My aim here is not to fight this. It has its merits. This year, I had to get blood as an emergency for many women with cervical cancer. Our Blood Bank was almost empty. Some were asked to get blood from Accra, 100km away. Drones would have been helpful here, but most importantly if women had been screened for cervical (pre)cancer some 10 to 15 years ago and had treatment, they would not have needed blood as an emergency and the need for drones would not have come up for them. And it is amazing how little they needed to prevent cervical cancer: Visual Inspection with Acetic acid (VIA) at GHS 20 ($4) for screening and treatment of precancerous lesion of the cervix with thermal coagulation at GHS 50 ($10)! That is what was needed to prevent cervical cancer and to prevent the need for drones for these women. And this would also have prevented the need for chemoradiation costing over $1,000 for these patients, which they can only get in Korle Bu, Komfo Anokye, or at the Sweden Ghana Medical Centre in Accra.
There are many women who will find themselves in the situation above (needing blood as an emergency because of anaemia after bleeding from cervical cancer) in the next 10 to 15 years because we do not have a functional national cervical cancer prevention programme in Ghana.
Earlier this year, the Cervical Cancer Prevention and Training Centre in Catholic Hospital, Battor presented an ‘ambitious’ budget to an organisation to support us in the fight against cervical cancer across Ghana (attached). We need some $1.5 million over 5 years to set up 250 centres across Ghana where two health workers (Community Health Nurses/General Nurses/Midwives/Physician Assistants) in each of these 250 centres would be trained to offer screening and treatment of precancerous lesions of the cervix. The budget includes a mobile colposcope and a thermal coagulator for each of these 250 centres so that screening and treatment of precancerous lesions of the cervix can be done in the communities (even in CHPS compounds) unlike the situation currently where only a few centres in some cities and towns can screen women.
We are unlikely to get this amount to make our vision come true, but we have not given up.
I am convinced that $1 million *in the right hands* will lead to a drastic reduction in the incidence of cervical cancer as well as reduction in mortalities from cervical cancer in Ghana in the next couple of years. I am also convinced that *in the right hands* $1 million could do the same for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria etc.
So $12.5 million *in the right hands* could sustainably transform healthcare in Ghana over the next 5 years and reduce the need for some of the emergency supplies which the drones are meant to deliver.
As we find ways to raise money for emergency services by drones, let us also find ways to raise money to tackle our health problems sustainably. We should not be too happy solving problems as emergencies when these could have been prevented with the right structures in place.
Dr Kofi Effah is a Gynecologist and Head of Cervical Cancer Prevention Center at Catholic Hospital, Battor in the North Tongu District of The Volta Region, Ghana. Website: DrKofiEffah.com