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Sunday, February 5, 2023

COVID-19: Tax exemption for front line health workers received-insurance still in the wilderness

The Government of Ghana has been praised extensively for its prompt response in handling the outbreak of COVID-19 within the country.  The World Health Organization announced recently that “it is studying some of Ghana’s techniques” when it comes to the coronavirus response. The Health Minister of Ghana, Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu reiterated that “government interventions in the health sector have included insurance package and tax relief for frontline health workers” The frontline health workers were defined by the Ministry of Health (MOH) as critical staff providing COVID-19 related care and services. The motive has been to ensure that the health sector and healthcare workers can manage the coronavirus situation.

This was communicated by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in his Sunday, fifth April, 2020, COVID-19 update address to the nation. In that nationwide broadcast, he informed the Nation on the progress made in the fight against the pandemic and the incentives the Government has proposed for frontline health workers among others.

“Fellow Ghanaians, it is vital that we protect the lives of our frontline health workers, who are risking their lives every day to battle this virus. That is why Government is placing a high priority on the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs) for them. An insurance package, with an assured sum of three hundred and fifty thousand cedis (GH¢350,000) for each health personnel and allied professional at the forefront of the fight, has been put in place, with a daily allowance of one hundred and fifty cedis (GH¢150) being paid to contact tracers. Government has also decided that all health workers will not pay taxes on their emoluments for the next three months, i.e. April, May and June. Furthermore, all frontline health workers will receive an additional allowance of fifty percent (50%) of their basic salary per month, i.e. for March, April, May and June. The March allowance will be paid alongside that of April.”

On June 28, 2020, Nana Akufo-Addo extended these packages in his thirteenth televised address on enhanced measures against COVID-19.

“I am happy to announce that I have decided to extend the incentive package for health workers by another three (3) months. This means that all health workers will pay no income taxes for the next three months, i.e. July, August and September. Again, all frontline health workers, as defined by the Ministry of Health, will continue to receive the additional allowance of fifty percent (50%) of their basic salary per month, i.e. for July, August and September….. I should reiterate that the insurance package for health workers is still in place.”

It’s been a year and few months since these incentives were proposed.  A total of twenty-three (23) health workers were interviewed. They include orderlies, nurses, doctors and a psychologist.  Seven (7) in Greater Accra, six (6) in Greater Kumasi. Five (5) in Western North and five (5) from the Volta Region. Every respondent confirmed receiving tax exemption on their employment emoluments from April to December 2020.

It was gathered that the Additional allowance of 50% of basic salary promised, was paid only to frontline health workers that directly give care to COVID patients in the isolation and treatment centers across the country. The words of Brita Asante (not her real name), a nursing officer at the Adabraka Polyclinic, summarized these revelations.

“For the incentives, every health worker I know in my clinic was exempted from paying income tax for the time the President promised. So, we had tax waivers that are from April 2020 to December 2020. But when it came to the 50%, it was restricted to those who were working solely with COVID-19 patients in the isolation and treatment centers. So, they paid April, May, June, that’s the first three (3) months that’s for those working at our end. Then they stopped for some time until this year when they paid that of October, November, and December.”

It is worth mentioning that the Insurance package in the incentives to health personnel and allied professional at the forefront of the fight had an assured sum of GHS350,000 (approx. US$60,345). It was discovered that; a health worker is only eligible if only they contract COVID-19 or have any accident in the line of duty.

To this end, Vivian addei, who is a health worker was diagnosed with COVID-19 in October, 2020. She revealed;

“We have not received anything yet. It was only this year, around February that management of my facility invited us to fill out a form. As it stands now, we haven’t heard anything from them.”

Insurance for health care workers.

Mr. Theophilus Otoo of the Takoradi branch of Enterprise Insurance indicated that the company’s insurance package was solely for health workers who owned insurance policies in the company.

“What it meant is that, during the COVID-19 even if they were deducted, their monies were reversed to them. If they couldn’t pay, Enterprise paid that month’s premium for them. So these were for Frontline Health Workers who are having life policies with Enterprise Life.”

In February 2021, Frontline health workers in the Ashanti Region served notice they will lay down their tools over unpaid insurance. That has been the concern of many health workers spoken to. They want Government to honour the promise of insurance due them.

COVID-19 records.

The novel Coronavirus SARS‐CoV‐2” was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern  by the World Health Organization on January 30, 2020 and gained a pandemic status on 11 March 2020. According to the WHO, it was formally notified about a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China on December 31,  2019. Ten days later, international cases were confirmed in Japan, South Korea and Thailand.  The virus responsible was isolated on 7 January and shared on 12 January to be the severe acute respiratory syndrome; SARS‐CoV‐2, commonly referred to as COVID‐19

Governments around the world came up with different policy responses to reduce the impact of this health crisis on their countries. To a large expense, these responses helped to contain the spread of the virus, manage the economic impact of the virus, and augment the health systems already in place in most of these countries. They came in the form of travel restrictions, school closures, bans on public gatherings, contact tracing, social welfare provision, improvement in healthcare facilities, stimulus packages for businesses and individuals, among others. To this end, Ghana is no exception.

This story is supported by Journalists for Human Rights under the Mobilizing Media to Fighting COVID-19 project.

By: Joy Sena Anku|www.zamireports.com|Takoradi.

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