A year into Ghana’s struggle to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the country passed the COVID-19 Health Recovery Tax Act, 2021 (ACT 1068) to impose a special tax on the supply of goods and services and imports.
This is to raise revenue to support COVID-19 expenses and to provide related business.
At that time, the government had already committed a large amount of funds derived mainly from loans and grants from donor partners to fight the disease.
The approval of this law represented a move to establish a reliable source of funds for the ongoing fight against the pandemic.
The nature of this law implies that when the pandemic ends, the country will stop charging this tax. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only disease of public health concern, nor will it be the last.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the country experienced outbreaks of polio, cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM), and yellow fever, which also spread rapidly and resulted in loss of life, especially in the case of CSM and yellow fever.
In view of this, and in the context that the country does not have a reliable source of funds to support its Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) plan and epidemic preparedness activities, it will be It is important to amend this law to establish an important fund, which will generate resources to finance preparation for epidemics in the country.
Potential of the proposed amendment to the COVID-19 Health Recovery Tax Law
The COVID-19 Health Recovery Tax Act imposes a one percent levy on the selected supply of goods and services.
In 2021, it generated approximately $144 million representing 11 percent of the budget allocation to the country’s health sector, showing that it has the potential to marshal the resources for its intended purpose.
The country cannot afford to stop collecting this tax when COVID-19 ends. That is why this Act must be amended to expand its scope beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to include all public health emergency concerns.
During the amendment, the levy could be increased from the current one percent to about two percent. Furthermore, in addition to focusing on the supply of goods and services, other lucrative sectors of the economy, such as telecommunications, could be targeted.
The measures, with an increase in business activities and the projected expansion of the economy, could offer a reliable source of funds to support routine IDSR activities and, indeed, Epidemic Preparedness and Response (EPR) funding.
Challenges in implementing EPR in Ghana
In the last two years, funding for routine disease surveillance activities (RISD) has decreased. Budget allocations for the health sector are spent on emoluments for health personnel and the construction of health facilities, leaving significantly fewer resources available to carry out routine disease surveillance activities.
This implies that diseases that could be detected and managed in time will be allowed to degenerate to an epidemic level with their devastating consequences for the population.
Last year, the total national health budget was $1.30 billion (about $4 per person in the US). This budget included the payment of salaries, health research, among others.
Of that figure, $803 million was expected to be spent on health services and $9 million on goods and services. EPR fell into the budget for goods and services. This was woefully inadequate considering the volume of work expected under the EPR.
Mrs. Elizabeth Tindan, Tamale Metropolitan Public Health Nurse, shared her experience with the Ghana News Agency regarding the fight against COVID-19 saying, “For COVID-19, because the funds were not there , when COVID-19 emerged, we, the staff, bought buckets of veronica for our office, used our clothes to sew masks to wear during our public engagements before the government and civil society organizations started receiving support” .
Madam Tindan’s risk-taking experience could have been avoided if such a fund existed long before outbreaks like Covid-19 reared their ugly head.
Mr. Iddrisu Mohammed Kamil, Senior Development Planning Officer at Yendi Municipal Assembly, also shared his experience on the lack of dedicated funds to fight epidemics in the Assembly, saying that “actually, it was difficult when COVID was registered. -19.
“We focused on our regular District Assembly Common Fund (DACF) and internally generated funds (IGF). We are facing problems to collect IGF and even if they are collected, there is already pressure on them. So, it was not easy until the DACF came from the government, and helped us set up the Public Health Emergency Committees, which intensified efforts to raise awareness and provide personal protective equipment” to help fight the pandemic. . in the town
Mr. Mumuni Mohammed, North Regional Program Manager of SEND-GHANA, spoke about the need to establish a dedicated fund to fight epidemics in the country “The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has really exposed us. Structures to combat epidemics do not work due to lack of funds. We have seen that countries that have strong structures backed by funds have been able to get through the pandemic and their economies have recovered. We need a reliable source of funds for EPR.”
The way to follow
When the country considered it important to expand the educational infrastructure, it introduced the Ghana Education Trust Fund to generate the necessary funds for that cause.
He also introduced the National Health Insurance Scheme to take care of medical care to abolish cash and carry in the provision of medical care.
As has been seen over the years, the diseases will keep coming.
Therefore, the country needs to prepare by strengthening its IDSR system by ensuring the sustained availability of funds for that purpose. Therefore, it is necessary to amend the COVID-19 Health Recovery Tax Law to broaden its scope, increase the tax, and target other sectors to ensure reliable funds to combat outbreaks and protect the population.
By Albert Futuk