Call to improve healthcare provision for people with cancer in Ghana

Dr Yakubu Salifu
Dr Yakubu Salifu (left) at the launch of Nursing Now

Lancaster University researcher Dr Yakubu Salifu says cancer patients in Ghana should get better access to palliative care.

Dr Salifu, who is a Lecturer in Palliative Care and Co-Convenor for Ethics in Biomedicine, is also a registered Nurse in both Ghana and the UK.

He said: “The cost of managing cancer, especially advanced ones, where treatment is not effective, is usually beyond the financial means of patients and their families. In most developing countries where there is no effective health insurance system, even where such arrangements exist, the treatment for most cancers is excluded.”

The World Health Assembly passed a resolution in 2014, urging nations to take a palliative care approach to all their citizens by integrating its principles into all aspects of health and social care.

Dr Salifu said there should be an equitable health system in Ghana for all patients despite scarce resources.

“Arguably, and from an economic point of view, governments shy away from the ethical issues using the prudent use of scarce resources as a smokescreen. Therefore, their budget either provides very little or nothing at all for the palliative care and management of cancer patients who have also randomly been affected just like people with malaria, diabetes and hypertension, among others.

“There are some contributing factors to cancers such as smoking, lifestyle behaviours, etc. but the actual cause of cancer is unknown as compared to say malaria where the bite of a mosquito causes it. The question, however, is, are our health policies currently explained by looking at the opportunity cost of treating cancer patients to say people with malaria? How do we quantify the life of one group over the other?

“As it now, in Ghana we seem to neglect others such as people with prostate cancer unethically, and other type of tumours, and leave them to pay from their pockets (despite having a valid NHIS card, and contributing to this through taxes and paying their subscriptions) for any care relating to cancer such as diagnostics, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, etc. This situation leads to considerable psychological effects for not only the patients but their families as well.

“We need to ensure that when it comes to our health care, the four ethical principles of justice (fair distribution of benefit and risk), beneficence (do good), non-maleficence (not harm others), and autonomy (right to make decisions) are respected.”

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