Free maternal healthcare policy not working – Research

A research conducted by the Navrongo Health Research Centre (NHRC) shows that the Government’s free maternal health care policy is not working in the Upper East Region.
The free maternal health care policy, which begun in Ghana in 2008, is being implemented through the National Health Insurance Scheme aimed at facilitating access to free and quality maternal health care services such as antenatal, delivery and postnatal care at health facilities.
The research findings, which were disseminated at a forum held in Bolgatanga, attracted stakeholders including  staff of the Regional Co-ordinating Council, district assemblies, the regional and district hospitals, the National Health Insurance Scheme, regional and district directors of the Ghana Health Service, some civil society organisations and management and staff of the Presbyterian Health Service-North.
The research, funded by the Presbyterian Health Service-North, was done because of public outcry that pregnant women in many health facilities were charged for health services during antenatal, delivery and postnatal care.
It was carried out in the Bolgatanga Municipal, Bawku Municipal and Kassena-Nankana East District in the Upper East Region.
It revealed that pregnant women who attended some of the health facilities were compelled to buy medicine including antibiotics, blood tonic and pay for laboratory and scan tests either in the health facilities or outside the facilities as well as buy disinfectants, bed spread, mackintosh, sanitary pads and soap in preparation for delivery.
The research indicated that such hidden cost of seeking maternal care did not only discourage many pregnant women from going to health facilities to deliver but also led to maternal and infant deaths. 
It attributed the problem mainly to the non-availability or shortage of medicines, laboratory reagents and ultrasound machines at the health facilities.
Dr Maxwell Dalaba, the Health Economist and Senior Research Officer of the NHRC, who presented the findings,  said women incurred  substantial costs  in accessing  maternal health services despite the implementation of the free maternal health care policy.
He said non-medical costs such as transportation, even though were not covered by the free maternal health policy, were also quite substantial and posed a great challenge to the women in accessing maternal health care. 
The research also identified unreliable phone lines, inadequate and high cost of ambulance services, lack of spare parts and inadequate fuel for ambulance services as some of the challenges.
Among some of the recommendations made were that health facilities should be adequately equipped with essential medicines, laboratory equipment and ultrasound machines required for the delivery of maternal services.
Dr Dalaba said a regulatory framework should be put in place to ensure that heads of health facilities endeavour to repair broken down equipment such as ultrasound machines used to provide maternal services, include essential non-medical items such as disinfectants, bed sheets, mackintosh, sanitary pads and resource the national ambulance system to ensure accessibility.
Mr Fred Effah-Yeboah, the General Manager of the Presbyterian Health Service-North, said what informed his outfit to commission the research was to scientifically find out whether there were some hidden costs incurred by pregnant women.
He said since the research had confirmed the truth scientifically, his outfit would engage stakeholders including the Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service, the Christian Health Association of Ghana and engage policy makers and the Government to address the bottlenecks in the free maternal health policy.
Mr Dordaa Felix, the Project Officer of the Presbyterian Health Service-North, said there was an urgent need to help address the problem in order not to defeat the Government’s agenda to reduce maternal and infant mortality.

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