This is how the Accra Daily Mail reported the launch.
Facing the challenges of autoimmune diseases in Ghana…
Only 4 Doctors Available
In a country with a population of over twenty million people, there are only four doctors qualified in the field of neurology to confront such a vast area of medicine; this came to light yesterday during the launch of an advocacy NGO – Sharecare Ghana – for people with autoimmune conditions.
The organization has attained international recognition and is affiliated to the Transverse Myelitis Association in the US.
In Ghana, the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) has signaled its willingness to begin a study into autoimmune diseases and the College of Physicians and Surgeons has also agreed to lend support to the organization’s efforts.
Speaking at the launch, the Coordinator of Sharecare Ghana, Nana Yaa Agyeman said the aim of the organization is to “reach out to people who have had or are living with long-term illnesses and want to share their experiences, expectations and treatment options.”
“One of our objectives is to campaign towards the inclusion of autoimmune conditions in the National Health Insurance Scheme…At the moment, even though some of us pay our premiums, we still have to pay for expensive tests and medicines,” she said.
Sharecare, she said, is seeking research, better diagnostics and treatment in the area of autoimmune conditions that has been largely ignored in the country. “For example, MRI scans are vital in monitoring many autoimmune conditions and yet, there is only one functioning MRI scanner in Ghana,” she said.
Nana Yaa Agyeman said the unfortunate situation in the country is that some doctors do not accept that Africans are now getting these disorders.
“This is unfortunate because although they were traditionally classified as rare, the diseases have actually been found to be not so uncommon within our society,” she said.
Those living with these illnesses, she said, are not alone. “If you are lonely, this is your chance to meet people who understand and can empathize.”
The National Co-ordinator revealed that the organization has a website through which those affected can share their experiences, expectations and treatment options.
“If you log on to www.sharecare.com, you can read other people’s experiences and also share yours,” she said.
In an address read by Alhaji L. M. Muniru, Deputy Director of Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at the Ministry of Health, for the Minister of Health, Major (Rtd) Courage Quashigah, the Minister said even though there is no separate policy and programme specific to autoimmune diseases, it can be said that government’s policy on autoimmune disorders falls within the overall policy, goals and strategies of the health sector.
“It is government’s policy to develop systems to reduce the burden of disease, mortality and disability suffered by those afflicted with the disorders and to reduce inequality in access to health and health services,” he said.
Government, he said, cannot achieve all the health policies on its own due to the complex and multifaceted nature of the disorders. Major Quashiga called for private participation in financing health care, since according to him, “the cost of financing health care especially chronic disorders such as autoimmune disorders is very huge”.
He said the government would continue to improve access to health services by expanding health facilities throughout the country. Autoimmune diseases and diseases of the central nervous system often don’t show a clear pattern of symptoms and are therefore difficult to diagnose.
The symptoms may include some or all of the following: numbness, vomiting, loss of body co-ordination and muscular spasms, vision impairment or loss, fatigue, tingling sensation, weight changes, depression, constipation, diarrhea and others.
Autoimmune diseases include the following: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Transverse Myelitis, Neuromyelitis Optica (Devic’s Disease), Lupus and others. Ghana’s healthcare delivery system is more geared towards the treatment of diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS, the five killer diseases in children with very little attention being paid to other equally debilitating ailments.
There are practically only two practicing neurologist in the country, whose work load gets heavier by the day as a result of the rising numbers of people being diagnosed with autoimmune diseases.
Presentations were made by Drs. Albert Akpalu (Neurologist) and Ida Kuwornu (Internal Medicine) both of Korle-Bu on the definition and clinical manifestations of autoimmune diseases and Dr. Michael Ofori (Immunologist, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research) spoke on the “Scientific background to autoimmune diseases”.
Professor Paul Nyame, Rector of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, who chaired the launch called for the strengthening of the National Health Insurance Scheme. He expressed the regret that it had been unduly politicized and called on Ghanaians to support it to make it work so that the most vulnerable in society could enjoy quality medical and healthcare.
The function was attended by sufferers of autoimmune diseases, their families, members of the medical profession, the media and related NGOs.