ONE Africa Award 2011: Demanding the right to health care in Ghana

This piece was originally published on ONE’s Africa Blog.

It’s time to announce our second finalist in the 2011 ONE Africa Award.

After our piece on a project in Togo, we went on to Accra, Ghana to meet the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights (ARHR). The alliance was established by a group of NGOs in 2004 and evolved from a defunct Save the Children program on sexual and reproductive health. ARHR Executive Director, Ms. Vicky Okine, is the former Save the Children program manager, and recognized the importance of the continuation of this program. It builds on the potential of community health organizations to empower their communities and drive the demand for better access to sexual and reproductive health care.

The Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights team
The Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights team

The alliance coordinates the community organizations, arms them with the patients rights charter and provides training in the area of reproductive health care. Through the alliance, local organizations have been encouraged to come together and share their experiences in the community, learn from each other and organize.

ARHR works from a rights-based approach, which is their basis for empowering communities to demand health care services from the government. Ghana adopted a free maternal health policy that was generally disregarded at the village level where the lack of information allowed health officials to get away with low levels of service delivery in many communities. With the assistance of the alliance, organizations have hosted advocacy and training at a grassroots level to get people to understand their rights, complain about poor health services and organize themselves to agitate for change. In a recent advocacy effort, beneficiaries were able to secure a meeting with the district health officers to demand better service delivery.

ARHR’s model is unique because this rights-based approach provides a response to the demand and supply side of delivery of social services. It provides the information that people need to demand for services and it also influences public health policy. ARHR also develops materials to help educate people on government policies and works with the Ministry of Health to feed back information gathered at the grassroots level to influence policy modifications.

ARHR has used the media, including radio and television, in their advocacy work, and stakeholders are now more aware of Ghana’s progress in efforts to meet the health Millennium Development Goals. Earlier this year, ARHR produced a documentary called “The Lights Have Gone Out Again,” which was aired on Ghanaian television and popularly drew mass attention to the problems associated with sexual and reproductive health care service in the country.

ARHR staff

Through all of their efforts, ARHR has successfully influenced the way government is doing business and improvements can already be seen in the health service with increased access to health care. Community residents, armed with information from the alliance, are no longer turned away from health centers when refused service. They stand their ground and demand their right to health care.

Good luck to the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights!