Coronavirus: Is Ghana winning the fight against the pandemic?
In the fight against containing the impact of the coronavirus, one country appears to be winning the battle through swift reactivity and pragmatism. What has been the winning combination to Ghana’s approach?
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said it was necessary to: “look at it [coronavirus] as an all-Ghanaian matter. All stakeholders – political, religious, traditional and civil society leaders – have to come together with the government,” in order to assure a coordinated and successful response to the crisis.
In keeping with a multi-level and coordinated response across the globe, a task force of scientists, economists, public health and medical officials, have been set up across many countries. National resources of the government, as well as exports have been pooled together to fight the pandemic.
In the case of Africa, the economies are heavily dominated by formal enterprises and informal (or daily paid) workers. All African leaders have had to realise that whatever policies they put in place must take these economies into consideration.
Ghana on a high
On a per capita basis, Ghana has produced the best testing results in Africa. This was done by implementing certain steps to ensure that the hotspots for the virus in the country were discovered that were then contained:
1. It was recognised that the virus arrived to Ghana via a foreigner. The travellers who brought it into the country were identified, and then the country was quarantined to block any further cases of the virus into the country.
2. The two main centres of the virus in Ghana – Accra and Kumasi – were shut down in order to see how the virus travelled around those two cities. After three weeks, there was a better understanding, so restrictions were eased, although measures against public gatherings, and the closure of schools and borders, remain in place.
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3. Out of about 120,000 people traced, Ghana has been able to test over 100,000. Consistently through the period of testing, the percentage of people testing positive has remained constant. The death rate is relatively small – only 18 of the over 2700 patients who tested positive have died, and virtually all fatalities had underlying health issues.
4. From studying the cases in Accra and Kumasi, the government is now in a better position to identify the geographic footprint of the virus, and therefore intensify testing and testing machinery in the areas that have been flagged. This means a better use of the limited resources available. The government can also now see what is needed to prevent the virus from spreading elsewhere.
Ghana’s public health system
The public health system of the country is relatively weak, although it is one of the best in West Africa because of the developed health insurance scheme. That being said, a large number of sick people are sure to pose a major challenge to the system.
The social and economic circumstances in West Africa make communal living part and parcel of the structures, making the handling of COVID-19 a particularly difficult exercise.
Instead of following the West, which has been placing more of a focus on social distancing, the Ghanaian government is now investing most of its energy in making sure citizens are wearing masks. It is an easier solution than the strict enforcement of social distancing, and it works better with the realities of the society.
President Akufo-Addo described this as a: “direct, manageable way of getting as many people as possible protected from the disease.”
The overall picture
From this crisis comes a lesson for the future. President Akufo-Addo recognises that Ghana has to make significant preparations and investments in:
- The public health system – it needs to be strengthened significantly to be able to meet not just COVID-19, but possible future pandemics.
- Increased production and manufacturing across the country to satisfy its own needs, for example in the pharmaceutical industry.
For now, the rate of infection in Ghana remains relatively constrained – the large explosion that was feared at the beginning has not happened. This has largely been in part due to the government’s ability to work with the current available resources by quickly identifying those who are infected and reacting to keep them contained.