Africa Lower-middle-income countries

Achieving universal health coverage in Ghana

Bertha Garshong and James Akazili of the Research and Development Division, and the Navrongo Health Research Centre, of the Ghana Health Service respectively, have written an assessment of their country’s progress towards universal health coverage for GNHE.

You can read the full assessment here.

The authors’ main conclusions are:


  • Over the past few years there has been some improvement in access to health care in Ghana. However, there are still many challenges to the achievement of universal health coverage.
  • Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) is a pro-poor policy and offers a generous benefit package to its members. Yet many poor people find it difficult to pay registration fees as well as the premiums. The Scheme also has difficulties determining the socioeconomic status of applicants: flat-rate rather then income-related premiums therefore burden poorer members disproportionately. While there have been promises by policy-makers to improve the equity of the NHIS, not much progress has been made in this regard on the ground, and proposed premium reforms remain controversial. As a consequence, the NHIS still caters more for higher-income groups, leaving many poor families without any prepaid cover, despite contributing to the VAT-funded component of the Scheme. As a result, out-of-pocket expenditure remains relatively high.
  • For Ghana to move towards universal coverage, the country needs to find more money to replace the current out-of-pocket payment system. As the relative contributions of premiums is small, tax-based funding is the obvious source. However, increasing the fiscal space to fund the NHIS requires economic growth and improved tax collection.
  • For a modest increase in fiscal space for health for 3 to 5 years, Ghana needs to achieve a revenue collection rate of 20% of GDP by 2015. Currently the collection rate of tax revenue is below 13%. A World Bank report on the NHIS states that Ghana’s macroeconomic landscape is still fragile and any move must be done cautiously. With Ghana’s oil find the growth rate was modest but steady around 6% in 2013, and this gives some fiscal space for health in the next five years. However, this will depend on government spending and revenue collection efforts and priorities. Much as Ghana is not expected to get foreign aid because of its lower-middle-income status, it could benefit if it increases its credit rating and devises a clear exit strategy from aid. Lastly, Ghana has structural inefficiency in its health system as well as in the operations of the NHIS. Tackling these inefficiencies could release some additional fiscal space.
  • Apart from strengthening the financing and coverage of the NHIS, it is vital to expand access to health care services and raise the quality of care. This would include addressing the inequitable distribution of human resources and equipment, and improving the management and administrative capacity of the NHIS. The Community Health Planning Services programme, which is designed to provide a close-to-client service, needs to be expanded. Primary health care services are closer to the people and are within reach of the poor, but confidence in these facilities has dwindled due to lack of skilled staff, equipment and supplies and the poor quality of care, particularly in rural communities. These limitations necessitate referrals but, with the lack of transport and poor roads, many referred clients are unable to access higher levels of care.
  • Information barriers are another area that requires attention. There has not been a consistent and effective communication strategy for either providers or potential clients regarding the mechanisms of the NHIS, especially with respect to the poor.


Bertha Garshong and James. 2015. Universal health coverage assessment: Ghana. Global Network for Health Equity (GNHE). Available at: