As Ghanaians gear up for President Barack Obama’s arrival on 10 July - his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa - they are mixing high hopes with caution.
“We can only keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best,” the director-general of Ghana’s Health Service, Elias Sory, told IRIN.
Obama is scheduled to make a major policy statement, Deputy Information Minister Samuel Okudjeto Ablakwa told IRIN, but the details have not yet been made public.
Ghana has become a key African partner of the USA, and is the fourth largest non-oil producing purchaser of US exports in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
During his 1998 Africa tour President Bill Clinton announced US$1.6 billion in debt cancellations to African nations, including Ghana, and pledged $500 million to boost economic growth and development on the continent.
Deputy Minister Ablakwa told IRIN: “We loved Clinton then because he put us on the world map and helped in making us attractive.”
In 2008 President Bush promised a five-year $350 million fund for Africa to fight glaucoma and other neglected tropical diseases; and called on the US Congress to double funding to $30 billion over five years to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria through his Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).
Since then PEPFAR has provided 1.2 million Africans with anti-retroviral drugs, estimates USAID.
But it was Bush’s pledge to allocate $17 million to assist Ghana in fighting malaria which brought him most popularity.
Photo: Evans Mensah/IRIN
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Malaria is the leading cause of death in Ghana, accounting for 38 percent of all outpatient illnesses, and 36 percent of all hospital admissions. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that up to 20,000 under-fives die from malaria in Ghana each year.
The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) is still being implemented by USAID, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Ghana Health Service.
The money has been spent on building up capacity to fight malaria, distributing 350,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets, targeting up to 600,000 people across five districts with indoor residual spraying, fighting malaria in pregnancy, and on diagnosis and treatment, according to CDC adviser on the project Paul Psychas.
“We have seen malaria deaths in children drop by 30 percent and I am in no doubt that the PMI is significantly responsible,” Health Service director Sory told IRIN.
“Bush made a direct promise and largely he has delivered on that promise,” said Abklakwa.
Officials hope this support will continue. Obama has promised it will, and in early May committed $51 billion towards PEPFAR over six years; while USAID’s Psychas assured IRIN Obama would continue to support the malaria initiative.
Excitement is mounting on the streets of Accra, with major roads decorated with Obama posters and other paraphernalia; and a cloth of President Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, selling out in markets.
Mother of four at Accra central market, Naa Lamley Mansa, has high hopes. “I remember Mr Bush last year, but Obama is like my husband and I know he will do more for Ghana. I want him to donate money for malaria but also want him to help some of us put our children in school,” she said.
Ghana’s economy has been hit by the global financial crisis, with price drops in key cash crops such as shea nuts, export drops in some raw materials, including timber, and remittances’ cuts contributing to people’s vulnerability.
Some are sobering their expectations in line with the current economic outlook. “What we forget is that Mr Bush made those pledges when the US economy was sound and healthy but I don’t think anybody can say the same now for Mr Obama,” Kwesi Amakye, a political science lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, told IRIN.
“I am convinced that many will be disappointed. We are simply expecting too much.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions