27 February 2013

Ghana: President Mahama Clears Air On Gender, Children and Social Protection Ministry

IN RECENT times, there have been much concern about the re-naming of the then Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs, into the Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection.

On one hand, there were concerns about the minister designate, a human rights advocate, Nana Oye Lithur, for what people say is her liberal perception on the issue of homosexuality.

On the other hand, some people thought that because of the perceived liberal view of the minister designate and other issues regarding the President Dramani Mahama's 'acquaintance' with an American gay activist (Andrew Solomon), there was more to the change of name than meets the eye.

In view of the public outcry, Nana Oye indicated that she had never advocated for the promotion of gay rights, nor would she use her office to promote the practice of homosexuality in the country.

In an attempt to put to rest the rationale for the change of name, President Mahama in his first State of the Nation Address noted that "the mandate of this Ministry is not to promote gay rights, as some segments of society have sought to portray."

Also, he pointed out that the Ministry would coordinate and implement the numerous Government social intervention programmes aimed at the poor and disadvantaged in society.

He indicated that "We have also taken stock of all the existing social intervention programmes, and relocated them directly under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection."

This would enable the country develop a more efficient targeting mechanism and eliminate duplication and manipulation of the existing fragmented programmes.

The President made this known at his first State of the Nation Address on Thursday, in fulfillment of Article 67 of Ghana's Constitution, which requires the President of the Republic of Ghana to deliver to Parliament a message on the State of the Nation at the beginning of each session of Parliament.

Furthermore, the new Ministry would have oversight of the Disability Council and would take steps to integrate fully "our challenged brothers and sisters in the mainstream of national life. We have shown a commitment to this by appointing Dr. Dannaa as a Minister of State", he said.

President Mahama noted that as social democrats, the Ministry was at the heart of government and would ensure that the Ministry establish a database of the poorest households or individuals in the society, and fashion programmes to enhance their access to social services.

Looking to the future, he said "as we forge ahead in social development and economic transformation, it is important to be mindful of segments of our society who for reasons of social, cultural or economic circumstances become vulnerable and marginalized."

He assured all that: "The fruits of economic growth shall be equitably shared for the benefit of our population. We cannot advance as a nation, half poor and half rich. Our Minister assigned to GCSP is experienced and capable and I am sure that many will soon see the results of her expertise in that sector."

Touching on health, the President stated that the relevance of improved health services cannot be over emphasized because it augments investment in all sectors. "A sick population cannot generate the productivity needed to maintain the acceleration of our economy", he emphasized.

He said presently, Ghana's healthcare system still has personnel deficits and service deficiencies despite the facility expansion and human capacity development programmes under implementation.

Among other things, he announced that government would construct an ultra-modern new Teaching Hospital for the University of Ghana Medical School, start the processes for the establishment of Regional hospitals in the Eastern and Upper East Regions.

He added that "We will continue work on the Regional hospital project in Wa, in the Upper West Region", and upgrade the Central and Volta regional hospitals into teaching hospitals, to expand the scope for training medical doctors and other healthcare specialists.

Concerning HIV/AIDS, he averred that Ghana has made significant progress towards achieving Universal Access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services through the implementation of a National HIV & AIDS Strategic Plan.

He further mentioned that HIV prevalence has stabilized at 1.5% with over 25% decline in new infections among the youth.

He pointed out that government in 2011 committed GH¢150 Million to support the implementation of the new five (5) year strategic Plan as an addition to government's support for prevention & treatment services.

"With this plan we intend to achieve virtual elimination of mother to child transmission and cut the rate of new infections by half", he stated.

For 2013, however, the National Response to HIV would require GH¢180 Million to continue with effective implementation of the Strategic Plan, said the President.

According to him, this funding would enable the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) to enroll over 220,000 Persons Living with HIV on the National Health Insurance Scheme Free of Charge. Additionally, some 15,000 would be initiated on Anti-Retroviral Therapy while over 625,000 expectant mothers would be tested for HIV.

He promised that "in the next four years, we will work towards improving access, service quality, increased personnel and enhanced working conditions across the various professions in the health sector."

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