In the healthcare delivery system, emergency conditions are estimated to be the cause for a large burden of disease in developing countries. It has been argued that most patients, especially, in developing countries lack access to timely care for common conditions that require emergency treatment and Ghana is no exception.
In Ghana, emergency care services were private, informal and extremely limited in scope prior to the early 2000s. It therefore does not come as a surprise to know that more than one-half of seriously injured victims died prior to reaching a hospital, and this phenomenon made no difference between urban and rural. Interestingly, the majority of the severely ill or injured people who are sent to health facilities reach there by commercial vehicle (eg, taxi or minibus), often only after relatives paid commercial drivers for their service.
Ghana lost about 127 of its citizens during a football game between the country’s two biggest clubs on May 9,2001. They were trampled to death at Accra Sports Stadium as a result of disruption during the game. The handling of the case at the stadium raised issues about our national response to emergency and disaster. Lack of emergency system was partly blamed to have caused majority of the fatalities. This increased calls for an emergency system to be established in the country. In response to these calls, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufour in his annual sessional address to Parliament of Ghana, charged the Ministry of Health and related bodies to see to the establishment of a national ambulance service. The Ministry of Health, the National Fire Service, the Office of the Attorney General, and others, responded to the president’s directive and established the National Ambulance Service (NAS) in 2004 and which was operationalized in 2006.
In 2004, the NAS piloted operations with 69 newly trained emergency medical technicians (EMTs), nine ambulances, and seven stations. As at 2017, with an estimated population of 32 million, Ghana at least needed over 1000 ambulances. However, though 155 ambulances were available in the country, only 50 were in good condition to work as ambulances. To address this challenge, the new government of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government promised to procure an ambulance for each constituency and reorganise the emergency system in Ghana. For the first time, in the history of emergency healthcare, the government procure 307 ambulances, one of the largest fleet any country in Africa procured at ago. All the ambulances were distributed to each of the 275 constituencies. That is every constituency in the country has its own ambulance with some of the remaining ambulances, stationed at accident prone highways.
As part of measures to improve the operations of the National Ambulance Service, 450 Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) have been trained to augment the staff to help man the new ambulances. Additionally, clearance has been given by the government for the National Ambulance Service to recruit 1,477 staff to boost the operations of the service.
The NAS now has a digitized state of the art ambulance dispatch management system integrated with national digital addressing system where all emergency calls will automatically generate the address to enable the control centre to determine the nearest ambulance to dispatch and also allow the ambulance to identify easily any health care facility suitable for the emergency. The ambulances are also fitted with trackers that monitor the movements of ambulances. This is to check ambulances are not used for unauthorised purposes.
Government in its commitment in ensuring an effective Emergency Medical Service (EMS) to help improve our country’s emergency response capabilities, has set up an additional 145 new ambulance service stations for the National Ambulance Service. What this means is, the ambulances and the EMT team will have a safe place to be while they wait to attend to emergency cases.
Again, the National Ambulance Service Bill is currently before Cabinet and will soon be forwarded to Parliament for consideration and enactment to deal with the issues of funding. The National Ambulance Service Bill which identifies funding sources for the National Ambulance Service is currently before Cabinet and would be forwarded to parliament for consideration and enactment as soon as it is ready.
Aside the employment the service is creating, these new fleets and the revitalization of the National Ambulance Service will go a long way in reducing emergency related deaths. It is hoped that improvement we see today will not end but more fleets and technology deploy to improve the emergency healthcare delivery in the country.