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Ablakwa turns to Bagbin in fight agiants $150 COVID-19 test at Kotoka

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Mr.Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, MP-North Tongu

The Member of Parliament for North Tongu, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa has renewed the debate on the $150 cost of COVID-19 antigen test at the Kotoka International Airport(Accra) which he has described as wicked, punitive and profiteering.

In a statement presented on the floor of the House on Friday, January 29, Mr. Ablakwa who is also the Ranking Member on Foreign Affairs said Members of Parliament have been inundated with a plethora of calls and complaints by many travelers who use Ghana’s airport since the introduction of the compulsory antigen test.

“Mr. Speaker, there is hardly a day passing without our constituents, Ghanaians in the diaspora and members of the general public reaching out to us on the cut-throat cost which they consider to be most unbearable – a view I strongly share and identify with. The public outrage has continued to play out on many media outlets.” Mr. Ablakwa observed.

He explained that Ghana’s Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for SARS-COV-2 is one of the most expensive in the world and which seeks exploit innocent travelers into the country.

“Ghana’s COVID-19 Antigen Test which cost a whopping $150 at the Kotoka International Airport remains one of the most expensive if not the most expensive Airport COVID-19 Antigen Test anywhere in the world. This amount which is punitive and retrogressive is leading to widespread agitation and incessant appeals from the general public for an urgent intervention especially by this august House.” The North Tongu Representative noted.

According to him, the cost of the test does not only affect individual travelers, but can also reduce the number of people who may ordinary travel to the country for holidays and other important activities.

Read below his full statement:

STATEMENT BY SAMUEL OKUDZETO ABLAKWA, MP FOR NORTH TONGU ON THE PUNITIVE US$150 COVID-19 ANTIGEN TEST AT THE KOTOKA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AND ITS NEGATIVE IMPACT ON GHANA’S COVID-19 FIGHT

Right Honourable Speaker, I am grateful to you for the opportunity to make this statement on what is undoubtedly of considerable public importance, particularly to the Ghanaian travelling public.

Ghana’s COVID-19 Antigen Test which cost a whopping $150 at the Kotoka International Airport remains one of the most expensive if not the most expensive Airport COVID-19 Antigen Test anywhere in the world. This amount which is punitive and retrogressive is leading to widespread agitation and incessant appeals from the general public for an urgent intervention especially by this august House.

Mr. Speaker, there is hardly a day passing without our constituents, Ghanaians in the diaspora and members of the general public reaching out to us on the cut-throat cost which they consider to be most unbearable – a view I strongly share and identify with. The public outrage has continued to play out on many media outlets.

Mr Speaker, in the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, one of the vital tools for risk minimisation and to slow down spread of the virus, has been the testing and isolation of infected people. According to the World Health Organization, the surest way to overcome this pandemic is to TEST, TRACE and ISOLATE.

At the peak of the first wave, most countries closed their borders to ensure that infections were not introduced through travel. It soon became apparent that if steps were not taken for countries to open up, the aviation and tourism industries were going to be badly damaged, though other sectors of the global economy were not going to be left out too.

Most countries, therefore, came up with a requirement for travelers to obtain a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for SARS-COV-2, 72-hours before they could board flights. As further scientific evidence emerged, it became clear that PCR by itself was not robust enough because the procedure can take up to 24 hours for results to be produced, passengers need to be given up to 72 hours to get the test done, and there is potential for new infections to occur or previously undetectable infections to show up in the time lag between testing and traveling. Following the development of newer more rapid tests, countries including Ghana reviewed their protocols to ensure that an antigen test was undertaken on arrival. This was to ensure that any latent infections that were missed by the earlier PCR test were identified and isolated.

Being more sensitive and elaborate, the PCR test must be run within a laboratory setting for six hours (or more) with expensive equipment and requisite human resources. This makes it relatively more expensive than any of the other forms of COVID tests available. At the start of the pandemic, the average cost of PCR was between $60 and $100. This has continued to drop with the current cost ranging between $16 and $100.

Mr. Speaker, the ANTIGEN test, which is what is sanctioned by the Akufo-Addo Administration at the Kotoka International Airport, however, is a point of care test that is simple to administer according to the experts. They indicate that it relies on a fluorescent device or a simple cartridge like a home pregnancy test kit and is priced at between $4.58 and $12 on the international market. At the time when Ghana reopened its borders on the 1st of September 2020 and introduced the requirement for antigen testing, the stated price at the airport of $150 was justifiably considered by many (who know that this technology is less sensitive and cheaper than PCR) as expensive. However, Government officials mounted a spirited defence and have since September last year maintained the $150.00 charge per traveller.

Mr. Speaker, it is instructive to note that my research reveals that other countries run the ANTIGEN test at a far cheaper cost than Ghana. Respectfully, with your indulgence, a few examples will suffice: Malawi charges $25, Malaysia $28, India (Goa Airport) $28, India (Veer Savarkar International Airport) $7, UK (Heathrow Airport, London) $70. What is even more striking is the realisation that the overwhelming majority of countries with the more superior PCR tests at their airports have charges that are shockingly far cheaper than Ghana’s ANTIGEN test cost. A few references: Togo charges $80 for a PCR test, Sierra Leone charges $80, Senegal charges $75, Rwanda charges $60, Djibouti charges $28, Germany charges $70 and Turkey has only a $16 charge for a PCR test.

Mr. Speaker, at the Fifty-Eight Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS held on the 23rd of January 2021 and chaired by the President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the performance of member states in the pandemic fight was reviewed. During this review, the harmonisation of cross-border movements of persons and goods was approved. As part of this approval, it was agreed that PCR testing for travel within the sub-region will be capped at a maximum of $50.

With this new development, it is my considered view that the $150 cost of antigen testing at Kotoka International Airport has become even more untenable. It cannot be right that the cost of antigen testing will be three times more expensive than the cost of the more sensitive and superior PCR test. I further submit that a look at the average wholesale cost of antigen tests on the biomedical science market is between $4.58 and $12. One may wonder how the cost to the end-user will be approximately 12 times the wholesale cost should the upper value of this range be used.

Mr Speaker on the 21st of January, 2021; the Kingdom of Netherlands indicated that with effect from midnight of the 23rd of January, 2021 travellers to that country will require an ANTIGEN test in addition to the 72-hour PCR test performed within 4-hours of boarding a flight to that country. Being a member of the Schengen Area and European Union, it is likely that other countries in these group will introduce similar requirements. Documents available to me indicate that the company operating the testing regime at Kotoka will be undertaking this testing too at a cost of $150 (some GHC850 at current exchange). According to a notice by the airline (KLM), travellers can opt to take the ANTIGEN test at Akai House Clinic on Sixth Circular road in Cantonments for GHC 250. The question is, why maintain this punitive $150 when the test can be run at a much lower cost elsewhere in Ghana, and why is the ANTIGEN test not being made more widely available?

Mr. Speaker, this if not checked could make travel to Ghana less attractive in this era of global economic downturn. As apart from the routine airline travel cost, passengers will require an average of $350 – $600 per person, depending on where the tests are carried out, for COVID-19 testing just to make a return journey to Ghana. For a family of five, this will translate to $1750 to $3000 for COVID tests alone.

Reports are also emerging about how some travelers are forced to collude with officials at the airport in order to beat the system due to the exorbitant charges. The Ghana Medical Association has had cause in a recent statement to draw attention to loopholes at the airport because of this phenomenon which is leading to further importation and spread of COVID-19. This is therefore rendering the entire testing policy at the airport counterproductive and clearly putting all Ghanaians at high risk as our case numbers continue to rise sharply.

Mr. Speaker, equally troubling is the regrettable fact that this $150 exorbitant charge was not brought to this House for consideration and approval as the Fees and Charges (Miscellaneous Provisions), 2018 (Act 983) demands. There are also fundamental concerns about the lack of transparency and alleged breach of due process not limited to flagrant violations of the Health Institutions and Facilities Act, 2011 (Act 829) when a newly registered entity known as Frontiers Healthcare Services was awarded the contract to carry out the ANTIGEN tests.

Frontiers Healthcare Services is said to be beneficially controlled from the tax haven of the Island of Dominica. Civil Society Organisations such as Imani have publicly raised alarm about these rather opaque arrangements.

Mr. Speaker, I believe the time has come for this House to carry out its Constitutional mandate of oversight by investigating all these matters as a matter of urgency. It is also absolutely imperative that we initiate concrete steps to cause a drastic reduction of Ghana’s ANTIGEN test cost to align with international best practice. The punitive and retrogressive cost is greatly undermining the fight against COVID-19. May it not be said that this House sat idle by as a few appeared to engage in supernormal profiteering at a time when many lives are being lost to this global health crisis.

Mr. Speaker, the government has also amended its original programme of offering free COVID tests except in very limited circumstances of walk-in requests based on ill health, contact tracing and exposure thus according to a 27th January, 2021 directive from the Ministry of Health signed by Acting Chief Director, Kwabena Boadu Oku-Afari; and so virtually all the positive tests we are recording now are due to people who pay the GHC300 – GHC600 to get tests done. We are thus missing a broad swathe of Ghanaians who cannot afford the tests, and so we cannot get a handle of the problem until we can measure it. Unless ANTIGEN tests which are cheaper and faster, are deployed widely across the country and made free in most cases to measure the scale of COVID in Ghana, we will be groping in the dark, for it is trite that: WHAT DOESN’T GET MEASURED, DOESN’T GET MANAGED.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, it is my fervent hope that the Executive will be more audacious and ingenious including deploying the use of advanced skillful diplomatic negotiations in securing vaccines much sooner than the 6-month timetable earlier advertised as other African countries such as Seychelles have been able to achieve. The international community must understand that WE FIRST and not ME FIRST is the only solution to this pandemic.

I convey deepest condolences to all those grieving on the loss of loved ones and wish all infected a speedy recovery. May we all continue to do our bit in a determined quest to defeat this ravaging virus.

I thank you, Rt. Hon. Speaker.

Source: Nationalistgh.com

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Contempt case against Rex Omar, 14 others adjourned to May 17

Mr.Rex Omar

The Accra Human Rights Court yesterday adjourned to May 17, 2021, the case in which a lawyer is seeking the court to jail musician, Rex Omar, and 14  others for contempt of court.

Mr Gabriel Awunyo, who is representing George William Dickson, veteran musician, Akosua Adjepong, and two others, was in court on Wednesday to move the contempt motion against the respondents, but was told the presiding judge, Justice Gifty Addo was indisposed.

Mr Awunyo has stated that the respondents disrespected the court by electing board members of Ghana Music Rights Organisation (GHAMRO) when there was a pending suit concerning the election.

His said his clients filed the instant action in their capacity as members of GHAMRO, a company Limited by guarantee and registered under the laws of Ghana.

On November 4, 2020, the applicants initiated action against the respondents, who are board members of GHAMRO, and subsequently served respondents with the process.

The applicants said they wanted the court to injunct the election of members to the GHAMRO board until the final determination of the matter.

The applicants averred that since the commencement of the action, Yaw Oxbon, a respondent, had at all material times represented the respondents in court.

In the affidavit in support of the motion to commit the respondents to prison for contempt of court, counsel for applicants, Mr Awunyo stated that the respondents had openly discussed the matter on radio, television and on social media how they were determined to go on with the election of new board members of GHAMRO regardless of the lawsuit.

He said the contempt shown by the respondents followed an entrenched pattern of behavior over the years.

The applicants said they also filed another application and served on the respondents specifically to restrain them  from holding elections to appoint a new board, and that the respondents were in court on April 15, this year, to confirm that the applicants’ interlocutory application was served on them.

However, the respondents went ahead to elect members on the April 19, 2021, the night before the motion was to be heard.

The conduct of the respondents, the lawyer argued was likely to prejudice a fair hearing of the motion.

He said the respondents were doing this with the full knowledge that there was a pending suit for injunction application which had been served on them seeking to restrain them from electing a new board, but continued unjustly enrich themselves at the expense of the members.

Mr Awunyo contends that the only intent of the respondents was to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect and interfere with the pending litigation.

Source: GhanaianTimes

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Government commissions secretariat to receive complaints on media harassment

 Government has commissioned a secretariat to receive and validate complaints of attacks on media practitioners in Ghana and advocate their rights and freedoms.

The Secretariat, known as: the National Coordinated Mechanism on the Safety of Journalists, would be a centre for media practitioners to report issues of intimidation and harassments in their line of duty for investigation.

It is located at the former offices of the National Media Commission (NMC) in Accra.

Mr Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, the Minister of Information, who cut the tape to officially open the Secretariat, said it formed part of government’s commitment towards ensuring the safety of journalists in the country.

He said discussions on establishing a secretariat to promote media safety started about two years ago, which allowed stakeholders to make meaningful inputs.

Mr Oppong Nkrumah said the office would primarily receive and validate complaints of intimidation and harassment of journalists, as well as advocate media freedoms and rights as enshrined in Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution.

“Two years ago, we began this conversation on what we can see today. I must say that this is an additional layer of government’s commitment to a free media,” he said.

“This adds up to the existing layers such as the Right to Information Act, establishment of the Right to Information Commission, and the repeal of the Criminal Libel law to strengthen media practice, as opposed to the claims of media silence in Ghana, which I disagree with,” the Minister said.

Mr Oppong Nkrumah entreated the staff and leadership who would work at the Secretariat to treat complaints with absolute professionalism and dispatch and help deepen collaborations between the media and its stakeholders.

Mr George Sarpong, the Executive Secretary of the NMC, said the opening of the office reinforced stakeholders’ commitment to the safety of the media.

He said the office would support media practice and freedom, adding: “This will serve as a ‘go-to-complain centre’ on the safety of practitioners.”

Mr Sarpong assured the media that the office would seek their welfare and safety, and deal with matters expeditiously.

However, he advised them to be professional in their practice and not necessarily court troubles for themselves in their line of duty.

Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Ms Sheila Kessie Abayie-Buckman, the Director of Public Affairs, Ghana Police Service, said the security services would collaborate with the Secretariat to provide safety for journalists in the country.

She said the Police Administration would do its part in ensuring that the media went about their duties safely.

DSP Abayie-Buckman said the country’s media were testaments of the thriving democracy and needed to be empowered to play their role effectively in nation building.

Mrs Linda Asante Agyei, the Vice President, Ghana Journalists Association, advised journalists to report to the secretariat whenever they were attacked and not restrict them to the airwaves.

She said the Centre would help stakeholders to get accurate data on attacks on the media and pursue them for the safety of journalists.
Source:GNA

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Akufo-Addo accepts Kissi Agyebeng’s nomination as Special Prosecutor

All you need to know about Kissi Agyebeng, Ghana's Special Prosecutor  nominee
Mr.Kissi Agyabeng

The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has accepted the nomination of Mr.  Kissi Agyebeng as the Special Prosecutor.

This was made known in a statement issued by the presidency today, Thursday, May 6, 2021.

The statement signed by the Director of Communications at the Presidency, Mr. Eugene Arhin, said a letter has been sent to the Speaker of Parliament to that effect to seek parliamentary approval in accordance with law.

“It will be recalled that President Akufo-Addo accepted the resignation from office of Mr. Martin Amidu as Special Prosecutor on November 16, 2020, and in accordance with section 13 (8) of the Special Prosecutor Act, 2017 (Act 959), is required to appoint a replacement within six months of the position becoming vacant.”

“To this end, the Attorney General, Mr. Godfred Yeboah Dame, on 16th April 2021, nominated Mr. Kissi Agyebeng, under section 13 (3) of Act 959, to the President for consideration as the second occupant of the Office of the Special Prosecutor,” the statement added.

The Presidency in the statement said it “is hopeful that Parliament will expedite the confirmation process of Mr. Kissi Agyebeng, so he can assume the position without delay.”

About Kissi Agyebeng’s nomination

The Attorney-General, Mr. Godfred Yeboah Dame, nominated the law lecturer and private legal practitioner as the replacement for Martin Amidu, who resigned from the position in November 2020.

Section 13 (8) of the Office of the Special Prosecutor Act, 2017 (Act 959) requires the President to appoint a person qualified for appointment as Special Prosecutor within six months of the Office becoming vacant.

The Office of the Special Prosecutor has the mandate to investigate and prosecute all suspected corruption and corruption-related offences as pertaining to public officers, politically exposed persons and persons in the private sector alleged to have been involved in any corruption and corruption-related offences.

Apart from initiating investigations on its own, Act 959 gives the Office of the Special Prosecutor the power to receive and investigate complaints of alleged corruption from the public or investigate suspected corruption or corruption-related offences upon referral from public bodies such as the Attorney General’s Department, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO).

Kissi Agyebeng was called to the Ghana Bar in October 2003 and holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of Ghana, as well as Master of Laws (LLM) degrees from Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, Canada and Cornell Law School, USA.

He has, since 2006, been teaching Criminal Law at the University of Ghana, whilst engaging in private law practice.

Source:citinewsroom

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