It was greeted with glee when President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced in his 16th address to Ghanaians the reopening of air borders to international travels on September 1, 2020.
Little did travelers know that they would be paying an exorbitant $150 for the mandatory COVID-19 test at the Kotoka International Airport before entry into the country. This made Ghana the country with the third most expensive COVID-19 antigen test in the world after Benin ($160) and Britain ($200).
Petitions to get the cost reduced fell on deaf ears as the government insisted on moving forward with the cost of testing which will be run by an unknown company - Frontier HealthCare Services Limited - incorporated in Ghana only 40 days before the opening of the air borders.
Why not the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR)?
Even staff of Noguchi are asking the same question after months of sterling work by its scientists to ensure Ghana meets its testing capacity at the height of the pandemic despite poor conditions of service. IMANI Africa, in a riveting opinion piece available to GhanaWeb on Monday, questioned the sidelining of Noguchi in favour of Frontier HealthCare Services.
“Our contacts at Noguchi are furious that Noguchi’s resources were used for this process off-site without any payment and auditing trails. They insist that research students from Noguchi were involved in process calibration work without any proper agreement between Noguchi and Frontiers Healthcare to warrant such an arrangement,” IMANI Africa highlighted.
“More alarmingly, our sources are adamant that a “globally novel” biomedical intervention, as the Frontiers Healthcare product has been billed, cannot be used on humans without the approval of the Ethical Review authorities at the institution. And yet, the Department of Virology has gone ahead to work with Frontiers Healthcare without any institutional review. What is going on here?” they questioned and asked two more questions:
Why is Noguchi not benefitting from the millions of dollars Frontier Healthcare Services is generating from offering commercial biomedical services by drawing on Noguchi’s expertise, and why is Noguchi facilitating a process that is so far defying basic biomedical ethics and even national laws?
IMANI Africa further raised some legal concerns including a possible violation of the Health Institutions & Facilities Act of 2011 (Act 829) which stipulates that companies and their facilities have to be licensed by HEFRA – the Health Facilities Regulatory Agency of Ghana - as part of a prerequisite for delivering clinical and bio-medical laboratory services.
“Our checks reveal that at the time that Professor Ampofo oversaw the supposed validation processes for Frontiers Healthcare to begin making money, these approvals had not been secured…
“Frontiers Healthcare furthermore did not have the personnel and other prerequisites that would have allowed HEFRA approvals anyway. The fact that it was operating an FDA-certified medical device would not, per our checks, be sufficient in this regard, since the overall protocols, personnel and health & safety regime goes beyond medical device certification,” says IMANI Africa.
What makes Frontier Healthcare Services Limited (FHSL) so “special”?
Investigations by GhanaWeb reveals that FHSL was incorporated on July 21, 2020, just 40 days before President Akufo-Addo opened the air borders. The company is also wholly owned by another Ghanaian company called Healthcare Solution Services Limited (HSSL) which was also incorporated on June 3, 2020.
It doesn’t end there.
HSSL is also wholly owned by another company called The Peters Family Company Ltd incorporated in the notorious offshore tax haven of Dominica.
However, most of the work at KIA is being done by scientists from Noguchi and nurses from the Greater Accra Regional Hospital (Ridge) with “Nigerian supervisors,” GhanaWeb finds. A senior airport official who spoke to GhanaWeb on condition of anonymity said: “I don’t know why we gave this contract to a foreign company. As you can see, Noguchi is doing everything and look at these Nigerians standing there like slave masters. My brother, where is the can-do spirit that our president always talks about.”
This arrangement is corroborated by a letter from FHSL made available to GhanaWeb and dated August 27, 2020. The letter, addressed to one Prof. William Kwabena Ampofo, Coordinator of the National Laboratory for COVID-19 testing at Noguchi, stated that:
“Our organization is carrying out COVID-19 testing on arriving passengers at Kotoka International Airport, Accra. We must ensure that we meet all applicable standards and guidelines for a top-quality, seamless operation.
“Per your role as National Coordinator for COVID-19 testing, we write to request your support for the following: Ensure standard operating protocols for COVID-19 testing are in place for nasopharyngeal sampling and processing for COVID-19 antigen detection; Constantly review the protocols of timely transmission of COVID-19 antigen results to the Ghana Health Service Port Health Unit.
“We look forward to hearing from you soon. Signed (Dr Emmanuel Acquaye - Director.)”
GhanaWeb has established that Dr. Acquaye is a pastor at the Action Chapel International on the Spintex Road.
FHSL and HSSL’s control from the notorious offshore tax haven of Dominica
The Peters Family Company Ltd located in Dominica is the Ultimate Beneficial Owner of HSSL and FHSL in Ghana which has been awarded the COVID-19 testing contract at the KIA despite being incorporated only 40 days before the air borders were opened.
The Registrar General's Department has no records of the Ultimate Beneficial Owner of the string of companies except a string of foreign and local directors who are fronting for the actual owners.
The registered office address of both FHSL and HSSL is the 6th floor of Nester Square, Airport City, Accra Ghana while that of The Peters Family Company Ltd is located on the 2nd floor of an unnamed office complex in Hodges Lane, Hanover Street, Roseau, Dominica.
The team that registered the HSSL have misled Ghana’s Registrar General’s Department about the exact location of The Peters Company Ltd. with the claim that the company can be located on HANOVER STREET, HEDGES LANE, DOMINICA.
Further investigation revealed that even though both FHSL and HSSL share the same office and were registered barely one month apart, they also share the same Objects. According to official records of both companies, the registered “Nature of Business” of FHSL and HSSL are: a) SERVICES = Provision of Qualitative and Cost effective Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Service; b) Healthcare Services = Administration and Operations Management; c) Healthcare Facilities Management and Hard (SIC); d) Medical equipment sourcing and commission
The directors of FHSL are: Jean-Laurent Louis (TIN=P0009487379); Samuel Bansah (TIN P0001525662). Bansah is also the company’s secretary. Meanwhile, the directors of HSSL are Samuel Bansah (TIN P0001525662), Jean-Laurent Louis (TIN=P0009487379) and RATKO KNEZVIC (TIN=P0009329250). The secretary of HSSL is one Chuks Chukwunwike (TIN=P0009329188).
Who is behind The Peters Family Company Ltd located in Dominica?
Meanwhile, IMANI Africa has made these three recommendations for cooler heads to prevail:
- Noguchi immediately begins to take steps to regularise the relationship between its Department of Virology and Frontiers Healthcare Services, so that the institution itself benefits directly for the use of its personnel and expertise in this biomedical collaboration, however styled.
- Proper ethical approvals and regulatory licensing be pursued immediately to ensure that the activities of Frontier Healthcare Services are brought in line with the proper regime of excellence that Noguchi’s local and international partners expect of it.
- HEFRA, the Ministry of Health and Noguchi individually and jointly tell Ghanaians, beginning with their own staff, what informed the exemptions to standard policy under which a 3-month company is being allowed to operate licensed and regulated services, whilst regulators continue to harass longstanding, law-abiding, companies in the health sector for far minor infractions.