Dr Naa’s Speech for 20th Anniversary Launch
Your excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies, gentlemen, all protocol observed-
I will also like to take this opportunity to welcome you once again to the launch of the International Health Care Center’s 20th anniversary celebration.
It is my honour on behalf of the entire staff of IHCC (past and present) to give this brief talk about our heath facility which I have given the title:
The story of IHCC – Hardship but yet Hope.
In 1994 the death of a 7 year old boy, who died due to complications of sickle cell disease would mark the start of what we are celebrating today.
Ghanaian born Eddie Donton was changed forever after the loss of his son and his way of grieving was to find a way to deliver end of life care to those who needed it. The year was 1994 and the place was Riverside, California, United States of America where Care One Hospice was founded by Eddie.
Set up at the time when AIDS was at its peak in the USA, the hospice very quickly became saturated with full blown AIDS patients, many from the GAY community. Eddie and his staff will provide the needed care to ensure each patient died a dignified death at the same time understanding more and more about HIV and AIDS.
A visit to Ghana in 1998 will enable Eddie expand the scope of his help to Ghana. At the time when we did not have Global Fund, PEPFAR, the Ghana AIDS Commission nor Anti Retroviral medications, there was a need to do something. All there was at the time was the fevers unit and the only support group of PLHIV, the wisdom association – whose members would gather every so often at the compound of the Fevers unit of the KBTH to pick up herbal concoctions, all they had at the time, to try to fight off the complications of their HIV infection.
IHCC was therefore set up at the time as a hospice facility to provide care to PLHIV, many already full blown AIDS and in the terminal stage.
From 1998 to 2007, IHCC would provide end of life care to over 400 AIDS patients. Dealing with very high stigma at the time towards a condition fairly new and so little understood by many, the work was enormous. With just a handful of staff and barely any other support the dedication to provide the needed care continued and IHCC was able to keep providing hospice care until 2007, 4 years after the official introduction of ARVS into Ghana when the facility decided to shift the focus to outpatient care and the provision of the life saving medications.
However, to do that would require the facility having to qualify as an ART site, another hurdle it had to overcome. Without enough support to an entity totally focused on clients and patients who could not pay for services rendered to them, it was difficult for IHCC to expand. We did not have the staff strength nor the full structures required to enable us qualify as an ART site.
Without losing hope, IHCC would continue however to provide services indirectly linked to ART. The center would function for a while as the place where many PLHIV from across the country who travelled long distances to Accra to access life saving ARVs, which were only available in as few as 4 centers in Ghana, would be provided a place to stay with IHCC offering complimentary services such as management of opportunistic infections, enhanced nutritional interventions and counseling services. IHCC would even provide treatment supporters, having some of the few staff accompany clients to their pre ART counseling sessions so they would not be disqualified from receiving ARVs because they had no treatment supporter, someone they had confided in about their status, which due to high stigma at the time was a problem for many. What a joy the staff of IHCC had when yet another admitted patient would come back from the KBTH with the sachet containing the first few tablets of ARVs, their very first 2 weeks of supply, the gateway to survival for them. Unfortunately however for some, this access came just too late and IHCC still continued to see PLHIV die while waiting for ARVs.
Having tried to get on programs in the very early days such as the involvement of private health facilities in HIV care by Pharm access International, to TAP (WHO’s – Treatment Accelerated Programs), which were private/public partnerships contributing to the national scale up of comprehensive HIV care services, IHCC, for various reasons, mainly lacking the needed capacity will not qualify. Dedicated to render our services, the center never gave up and continued to offer needed care to many PLHIV.
IHCC will however start to make some progress in terms of staff strength when with support from two very good friends, one who started of as a volunteer nutritionist in 2003, from the Netherlands – Cindy, as well as Ghanaian born Stella, also a nutritionist from the USA, enabled the facility bring on board more staff. This led to IHCC in 2007, joining the Rainbow Network, a group of private health facilities who had been given franchise to provide HIV and AIDS care and support in Ghana spearheaded by FHI. Another milestone had been achieved.
Since then, IHCC has continued to provide the full spectrum of HIV and TB services to many. Believing in getting the services to people, the center has proactively been involved in numerous forms of Differentiated Service Delivery for years now , ensuring clients get what they need.
Today, IHCC although a community clinic open to the general population has fully integrated HIV and TB services. It currently has a PLHIV patient cohort of 1500 made up of men, women, children from diverse back grounds such as KP – MSM/FSW, Ghanaians and even a few Non Ghanaian clients and the numbers continue to grow, making the struggle to maintain the quality of care we provide to clients also continue to grow.
Despite treatment being 1/3 of the 90-90-90 UNAIDS targets, this area remains one that is not very interesting when it comes to funding. Understandably so as clients who visit any facility should be able to pay for services rendered to them, either in cash or by some form of insurance coverage. Donor money given for anything in the area of treatment most likely will be swallowed up by procurement of commodities, the supply of these and for training of health care workers. Nothing much is left to be given to a health facility to cater for people who cannot pay for services. So therefore the struggles of IHCC continue as we too will not give up the care we so much want to provide and continue not to receive any direct support for the work we do.
Unfortunately, a solution that should be helping us which is the National Health Insurance, seems to have forgotten some facilities where services rendered to clients for as way back as 2 years have not been reimbursed. Interestingly, despite all these constraints, never once has IHCC closed its doors to any PLHIV, in fact when government facilities for whatever reasons go on strike, PLHIV who attend clinics there are assured of services, especially access to their ARVs at IHCC.
The dedicated staff of IHCC realize that we have come too far to quit and whatever the circumstances we will continue to fight to ensure we provide care to those who need it.
It has been a long journey of hardship and hope and I will not be able to put all of these into my 10 minutes talk.
I want to however, thank the many who have joined us on this journey. Dr. Maurice Ankrah, Dr, Stephen Ayisi Addo, Dr. Fred Poku, very important men in the field of Medicine and HIV in Ghana today who once upon a time were doctors at the IHCC, this goes a long way to showcase where IHCC has come from and the contributions it has made.
I also want to now take the opportunity to let you know where IHCC together with its sister organization, the West Africa AIDS Foundation is heading which is re focusing on our youth! As the World’s greatest hope in the fight against HIV, greater involvement of the youth is needed and that is why we are grateful that ex footballer John Paintsil, who is here today has agreed to see how he can partner with us to make this possible.
Over the years, I have enjoyed sharing the journey and I have noticed that those I have shared and continue to share IHCC and WAAF’s work with are very humbled by our story.
This is therefore the driving force behind my writing a book and although it has taken me years to finally complete this, IHCC’s journey of Hardship and Hope, the humbling nature of HIV care in Ghana will soon be available on the markets. A synopsis of the book is as showcased on the screen.
I will want to take this opportunity therefore, to ask that the book be bought by as many as possible once it becomes available to enable us raise enough funds to keep our work going.
I thank you very much