Lawmakers on the Health Committee bared their teeth yesterday after Health Minister Kwaku Agyeman-Manu failed to appear for a committee hearing to discuss the cause of vaccine shortages for the extended programme of immunisation against the six deadly childhood diseases.
The ministry, through the Chief Director, was said to have requested that the hearing be rescheduled for March 7, 2023, because the minister was “unavoidably absent.”
Dr. Nana Ayew Afriye, Chairman of the Health Committee, explained that this was communicated to him through phone call, and that he had yet to see official correspondence to that effect.
This sparked outrage during the committee hearing, with some members of the Health Committee, particularly the Minority, accusing the minister of disrespecting Parliament.
“The matter in question is the type that elsewhere Parliament will invite a minister within 24 hours and he has to appear because of its urgency. Now you have a minister, for lack of better word, I will say he disrespectfully refused to attend to an invitation of the committee,” Asawase MP, Mohammed-Mubarak Muntaka, indicated.
He continued, “It tells you how he is running the ministry and it is just unfortunate that we have a government which a lot of its actors are behaving as though they are doing the citizens a favour by occupying those offices; instead of them attending to the urgent needs.”
He stated that everything could wait except the expanded immunisation programme because it is time-bound, noting that this is something the children would miss and could not be corrected.
As a result, the former Minority Chief Whip demanded that the minister be subpoenaed by the committee in order for the hearing to take place.
Chairman of the Health Committee, Dr. Nana Ayew stated that essential vaccines for measles, pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, tuberculosis and poliomyelitis had been in short supply and “precipitated some morbidity and mortality situations of children in the country.”
According to him, of great importance to public and child health are the vaccines against the six killer diseases of childhood.
“The Committee on Health which provides oversight on health related issues, mandated by our Standing Orders and our power derived from the constitution, decided to invite the respective agencies to speak to the issue.
“We are concerned because every life matters. Just as many of us here feel our sustainability has been more because of the vaccines we had in our childhood. We cannot deprive any Ghanaian that opportunity to live. In the absence of vaccines, the committee’s thinking is inexcusable or unpardonable,” he noted.
He explained that it was in this context that they decided to invite the Minister of Health, the Ghana Health Service, the Vaccine Control Programme, the Director of Budget, and the National Health Insurance Authority to attend.
“NHIA has part of it sits on non-core mandated by the Act (usually not exceeding 10% of the budget). The provision of non-core stakeholders have interest in them, among which we find the Ministry of Health which seeks GH¢72 million for vaccines in the country,” Dr. Ayew said.
He asserted, “It is of interest to know that wherever the Ministry of Health would get money for vaccines, NHIA as part of its non-core function allocates some amount of money for vaccines. That is why.”
By Ernest Kofi Adu, Parliament House