3rd June 2020
Marian Asantewah Nkansah
Marian is at the Department of Chemistry - Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana
Since COVID 19 sprung a surprise on the world after lingering on in China for the last quarter of 2019, nations have reacted differently in their response to this menace. As a citizen of Ghana, I have observed how government, political parties, citizens, scientists and academia, corporate entities, faith based organisations, traditional rulers, etc. have risen up to the occasion to be counted with varied forms of interventions to combat the scourge.
It is worth mentioning that, some of the public etiquette that Ghanaians acquired during the outbreak of Ebola between 2014 to 2016 has lingered on though Ghana never registered a case during the epidemic. The use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and gloves in particular are commonplace in most public service places and airports. On the third of February, I passed through the airport in Accra and temperature monitoring, the use of gloves and masks were visibly present. Around this time, public sensitization and awareness creation on COVID 19 were mainly via reportage from media outlets.
On the 4th of March 2020, the President of Ghana visited the Kotoka International Airport and isolation and treatment centers of the Tema General Hospital and the Greater Accra Regional Hospital to inspect their readiness in response to COVID 19. He stated that there were designated isolation and treatment centres in all the 16 regions of the Country. It would be recalled that on the 6th of March, 2020, while giving the 63rd Independence Anniversary Speech, the President admonished the populace on the need for handwashing with soap under running water, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and avoidance of unnecessary contact (social distancing). On that occasion, the president instructively and conspicuously did not shake hands with dignitaries (an act which is atypical of such celebrations) throughout the celebration and soon after.
Regular Presidential Addresses
On the 12th of March, 2020, a day after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID 19 a pandemic, the President of Ghana gave the first of what will become a regular feature in the COVID 19 response agenda to the entire nation. He presented the readiness of the Country and added that the Government of Ghana (GoG) had plans of spending One Hundred Million Dollars ($100 Million) on interventions such as expansion of infrastructure, procurement of materials and equipment, and public education among others. He advised the populace to avoid foreign travel as much as possible and gave the assurance that all points of entry including land borders and airports were ready to screen all incoming travellers.
On the 13th of March, 2020, the President addressed the nation once more to repeat an earlier report by the Minister of Health together with the Minister of Information on the first two confirmed cases of COVID 19. He re-echoed the need for all and sundry to adhere to the COVID19 social etiquette in order to prevent the spread. He emphasised that the COVID 19 fight is not only a government issue but required all stakeholders to get on board and cooperate with government. So far, there have been such presidential addresses on the 15th March, 17th March, 21st March, 5th April and 9th April, 19th April 26th April, 10th May and 31st May, 2020. These addresses offer updates on confirmed cases as well as legislated directives.
Directives on Restricted Movement
These have ranged from an initial directive on the indefinite closure of universities, schools, churches, mosques and a ban on all public gatherings on 15th March, 2020 to the imposition of a lockdown on the two epicenters namely the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area and the Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area on the 27th of March, 2020.
It is interesting to note that, the stance of the National Identification Authority (NIA) to continue its mass registration exercise in the Eastern region after the President’s ban on public gatherings was challenged in court by two individuals with the Ghana Medical Association threatening a strike. Though the court ruled in favour of the NIA, it decided to call off the registration exercise during this pandemic.
On the 21st of March, 2020, the President of Ghana ordered the closure of all the country’s borders (land, sea and air) to all human traffic and directed a 14 –day mandatory quarantine and testing for all travellers (Ghanaians or residents) from countries with more than 200 COVID 19 cases. At this time, Ghana had recorded nineteen (19) COVID 19 Cases. This was followed by a release on 23rd March, 2020, from the Ghana Tourism Authority ordering the closure of all beaches in the Country.
In solidarity with the Government’s directive on social distancing, the Chairman of the Kwahu Traditional Council, Daasebre Akuamoah Agyapong II in a press release on the 26th of March, 2020, signed by the Registrar of the Council, directed all natives of Kwaku outside of the jurisdiction (either in Ghana or abroad) to remain wherever they are and not to attempt to move into the Traditional Area. He said “Kwahus living in Kwahu should remain in Kwahu. No travelling outside of Kwahu until the pandemic is contained.”
These directives were given due to the culture of ‘Easter Home Coming’ among the Kwahu’s. He added that because Kwahu has a large aged population, any mingling with outsiders could expose the already vulnerable group. Though traditional rulers are recognised in Ghana, the legitimacy of the King’s perceived order was interrogated by the public and the Traditional Council had to clarify that their press release was an advice.
Ghana COVID 19 National Trust Fund and other Funding Interventions and Stimulus Packages
Since the detection of COVID 19 in Ghana, there have been countless cash and kind donations from individuals, churches, the private sector, the aviation industry, the political parties (notably the leading opposition party, the National Democratic Congress) and various entities from all spheres of the country. Some of these donations were made directly to hospitals, research centers, prisoners, the destitute, etc. while others were made to government. In order to have an organised and transparent approach to the collection and disbursement of funds, the President inaugurated a Board of Trustees on the 29th of March 2020 to oversee affairs of the fund. The President and Vice President promised their 3-month salaries from April-June to the fund. Some parliamentarians also donated 50% of their April to June salaries to the fund.
The Ministry of Gender and Social Protection in collaboration with National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) and Faith based Organisations have been involved in the distribution of food and other supplies to the underprivileged within the Communities under lockdown.
Though the experts had advised a total lockdown as the key to eradicating community spread in the two epicenters, government was faced with the dilemma of the inconvenience it will have on the have-nots who have to live from hand-to-mouth and the economic implications of the stimulus packages thereof.
The President during his addresses to the nation on the 5th and 9th of April, also announced the provision of free water supply and 50% waiver on electricity consumption for residents from April-June 2020. Front line health workers have been offered a 50% increase in basic salary and a Life Insurance Cover in addition to all other stimuli which the public is enjoying.
As a way of cushioning importers from losses due to the lockdown and its restrictions, government waived rent charges and demurrages for the months of March and April.
Taking a cue from the formation of the National fund, leaders in certain localities have also set up support funds to help the less privileged under their jurisdiction. Notable among them is the One Million Ghana-Cedi fund, set up by Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, King of the Ashanti Kingdom on 1st April, 2020.
Public Education and Stakeholder engagement
The Government of Ghana (GoG) since the inception of COVID 19 in Ghana has interacted with faith based organisations, traditional rulers, market women, owners of public transport, pharmaceutical manufacturers and industries, leadership of parliament and others on how best they can partner government and use their various platforms to help in public education, expansion of infrastructure and local manufacture of Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) and other materials needed. Education materials have been translated into eight (8) local languages for effective dissemination. The use of skits and recorded messages by social media influencers have enhanced the coverage.
There have been periodic press briefings led by the Minister of Information with the Media which serves as a channel for information flow and a feedback mechanism from the Government to the Populace and vice versa. Most of the Media outlets continue to offer free airtime and space for public education on COVID 19 and the response strategies. On the 4th of April, 2020 the President met with the leadership of political parties in opposition to discuss how they could collectively tackle the COVID 19 pandemic. Though the current public education strategy is all embracing, the exigencies of life makes adherence to the social etiquette nearly impossible for the underserved in the society.
Reacting to conspiracy theories being spun around by a section of the media in this period of pandemic, the President at a meeting held on the 26th of April, 2020 with the leadership of the National Media Commission, journalists and media houses among others, admonished reporters to allow ‘the science to do the talking” and avoid the spread of fake new.
The President of Ghana has passed four Executive Instruments (E.I) to offer a legal backing to the directives issued in respect of the COVID-19 containment strategy made so far. They are; E.I.63 on ‘Establishment of Emergency Communications System Instrument, 2020, gazetted on 23rd March, 2020; E.I. 64 on ‘Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) Instrument, 2020, gazetted on 23rd March, 2020; E.I.65 on ‘Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) (No.2) Instrument, 2020, gazetted on 30th March, 2020 and E.I. 66 on ‘Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) (No.3) Instrument, 2020, gazetted on 3rd April, 2020.
The Financial Sector
On the 16th, 18th and 22nd of March, 2020, the Bank of Ghana (BoG) and the Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement Systems Ltd (GhIPSS) came up with measures such as ease of transaction and waiver or reduction of online transaction charges, to cushion the public who undertake online transactions as well as discourage the use of cash so as to prevent the spread of COVID 19. In addition, the BoG has reduced the monetary policy rate by 150 basis points to 14.5 percent as the central bank bids to stimulate the economy and shield the impact of COVID19.
The Bank of Ghana has also provided a 1.5% decrease in the Policy Rate and 2% in reserve requirement with a Three Billion-Cedi (GH¢3 billion) facility, to support industry especially in the pharmaceutical, hospitality, service and manufacturing sectors. There is also a 2% reduction in interest rate among others.
The Ghana Revenue Authority has come up with flexible terms such as a 2-month extension of annual tax returns and field auditing and a waiver of penalties for tax payers who redeem their outstanding debts by 30th June, 2020.
The President in his address to the Nation on 27th March, 2020, mentioned that “Government, in collaboration with the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI), Business & Trade Associations and selected Commercial and Rural Banks, will roll out a soft loan scheme up to a total of Six Hundred Million Ghana Cedis (GH¢600 million), which will have a one-year moratorium and two-year repayment period for micro, small and medium scale businesses.”
In recognition of the key role of the media continues to play in Ghana’s COVID 19 response, the Government through the Deputy minister for information, donated PPEs to the media on the 5th of May, 2020.
Involvement of Science, Technology and Innovation
The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has been at the forefront of the battle and influencing government in decision making as far as the COVID 19 pandemic is concerned. This body is responsible for implementation of health related national policies under the control of the Ministry of Health and together with the Ghana Medical Association have been involved in public education on COVID 19 prevention, testing and treatment. The Telecommunication Companies in Ghana have been assisting the GHS with the necessary data for effective contact tracing. The Ghana Health Service (GHS) runs a real time online monitoring system for COVID 19 in Ghana. It also advises government on strategies for an effective contract tracing and management of COVID 19.
The National COVID 19 team includes, the Presidential adviser on health who is an experienced medic and former Director of Health Services (Dr. Nsiah Asare), Dr. Anarfi Asamoa- Baah a former Deputy Director General of WHO directly appointed to coordinate issues to do with COVID 19 at the Presidency; as well as the newly appointed Deputy Minister of Health (Dr, Okoe-Boye) with Medicine and Public Health background to replace one with Law and Finance background.
Ghana has two equipped centres of excellence namely; the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research (NMIMR) in Accra and the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research (KCCR) in Kumasi responsible for testing samples from the Southern and Northern Sectors respectively.
Academics at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and other institutions have been producing alcohol-based hand sanitizers to supply the Ashanti Region and beyond since COVID 19 was reported in Ghana. The College of Engineering of KNUST has also designed and constructed a ventilator called ‘IBV and KNUST Ventilators’ which is awaiting clinical testing.
In addition, Scientists at KNUST together with Incas Diagnostics (a diagnostic company), have created a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kit to help test for the novel corona virus.
The Centre for Plant Medicine Research (CPMR) serves at the point of authenticating and integration of herbal medicine claims into the COVID 19 management and treatment protocols.
The President in his address to the Nation on 5th April, 2020 indicated that government was collaborating with the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on how to harness well researched indigenous and modern knowledge in the fight. He also praised a young man who had invented a solar powered handwashing Machine. The Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) has since waived off a certification fee of Twenty-Thousand Ghana Cedis (GH¢20,000) and has seen to the expeditious certification of the sample for mass production as soon as practicable. Government is also supporting some local companies in the production of face masks, surgical gloves, scrubs and other PPEs. All locally manufactured products will undergo testing and certification by the Ghana Standards Authority and the Food and Drugs Authority.
On the 11th of April, the University of Ghana released information on the successful sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from fifteen confirmed cases in Ghana by scientists at their West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) in collaboration with the Noguchi Research Institute of Medical (NMIMR) all in Accra.
On 13th April, 2020, the Vice President of Ghana launched the Ghana COVID 19 Tracker App. He said “It will help us easily track people with the virus, and those who have had contact with others. It is also useful in quarantine reliability, in case certain individuals need self-quarantine”.
A couple of weeks prior to this, Prof. Ellis Owusu-Dabo, the Dean of School of the Allied Health and his team at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) had developed a similar tracking app called Covid-19 TECHBOT.
It goes without saying that the global shortage of PPEs and medical supplies has forced the country to look inward and harness resources and potential to design and produce locally what is needed for the COVID 19 battle.
Disinfection of Markets and Lorry Stations
The Minister of Local Government and Regional Development in response to the President’s order started disinfection of all open spaces, markets and lorry stations in the Country starting from the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area on 23rd March, 2020 as a precautionary measure against community transmission.
Amnesty to Prisoners
On the 26th of March, the President granted amnesty to eight hundred and eight (808) prisoners upon the recommendation of the Prison Service Council and in consultation with the Counsel of State in accordance with the Ghana Constitution. This was intended to ease overcrowding in the prisons as a response to COVID 19.
Expansion of Infrastructure for testing, treatment and management
Though the Noguchi institute of Medical Research and the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research have been the designated institutions for testing COVID 19 from the onset, the increase in the demand for more testing as the days go by has resorted in the establishment of eight (8) additional testing faculties dotted across the Country to help the situation. Also in the quest to shorten the time between sample taking and testing in remote communities, Zipline Company which is in charge of medical drones in Ghana started transporting COVID 19 test samples from April, 2020 and this has eased the stress associated with waiting for many days before status is confirmed. On the 17th of April, the President of Ghana did a virtual sod-cutting of a 100- bed isolation and treatment facility in the Ga East Municipality. A number of centers have also been secured around the country with the private sector and faith-based organizations championing the cause in some instances. It is gratifying to note that the COVID 19 pandemic and its challenges have driven the government to pay more attention to the health sector. This was admitted by the President in his address on the 26th of April, 2020, where he announced plans to start the construction of eighty-eight (88) new district hospitals to be completed within a year. He added that regional hospitals were also to be constructed in the six (6) newly created regions of the country.
Gradual Ease of Restrictions
The President on 19th April, 2020, during his address to the nation, lifted the lockdown imposed on the Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi areas and encouraged the wearing of face masks in all public places. At this point the COVID 19 statistics was; 641 positive cases out of 50,719 persons tested. Categories under the 641 confirmed cases are; 548 mild/responding to treatment, 83 recovered, 2 critical/moderately ill and 8 deaths. Though the numbers had increased significantly since the last update, government indicated that the timing was good since an aggressive contact tracing had been done and all residents at risk had had their samples taken, though some samples were yet to be tested. The President added that his decision was based on science. The news was received with mixed reactions with some asserting it was premature and others opining that was the best for the economy. Though the lockdown was lifted, other restrictions remained in place.
On the 26th of April, 2020, the President of Ghana during his address to the nation re-iterated the order of compulsory wearing of masks in public places. The days that followed saw the police inspecting masks and asking residents who were seen in public without masks to go home.
The Minister of Aviation on the 29th of April, issued a statement that domestic flights which were grounded during the period of the lockdown would resume operations from the 1st of May, 2020. He assured the general public that the airports are safe after a thorough disinfection exercise.
Though the number of COVID 19 cases in Ghana keeps increasing due to enhanced testing, the President of Ghana during his 10th Update to the nation on the 31st of May, 2020, lifted some restrictions on public gathering. Public Schools and Universities are to be reopened for only final year students to complete their studies and write their respective examinations. Churches and mosques are to resume but restricted to not more than 100 people at a time and not exceeding a duration of 1 hour. Other activities like conferences, weddings, workshops, private burial, restaurant operations were to open but restricted to a maximum of 100 persons at a time. All other bans were to remain. Public institutions like the Electoral Commission and National Commission for Civic Education were to resume their duties bearing in mind all the safety protocols.
The COVID 19 situation at this time stood at; 218,425 tests conducted, 8,070 confirmed cases, 2,947 recoveries and 36 deaths. Though the President attributed governments ’s decision to advise from experts (citing our low death and hospitalization rates) and multi - stakeholder consultation on the way forward, a section of the public continues to question governments motivation behind these choices.
CONCLUSION ON THE STORY SO FAR
The COVID 19 pandemic threat has shaken the core of human existence and countries have found themselves running after the pandemic instead of having a strategy to face it head-on. The interventions outlined here highlight what has been done for the benefit of the public. The successes chalked could be attributed to the prompt response by government and multi-sectorial engagement. These responses have sometimes been saddled with challenges such as adherence to social distancing particularly in poorly structured markets and slums around the regional capitals, implementation challenges such as improper addressing systems for proper contact tracing, isolated cases of abuse of citizenry by enforcement officers with occasional outbursts by the Opposition when their expectations don’t converge with those of government.
Weathering through the COVID 19 pandemic has shown the resilience of the Ghanaian people in adversity and has also laid bare the cracks in the society and the urgency to tackle them. There is no doubt that Science and Technology stands tall in this fight considering all the evidence before us. Governments all over the world therefore need to commit to the establishment of a National Research Fund to support basic and applied research.
This chronicle of Ghana’s COVID 19 response has key lessons for Africa and the entire developing world.
Some economists cautioned of the potential consequences of the partial lockdown and general restrictions on economic growth, considering the fact that public sector expenditure is on the increase to meet specific COVID-19 financial stimulus and other social intervention demands. Was the lifting of the lockdown premature? Government continues to roll out directives to open up the public and bring life back to ‘normalcy’. Could Government have sustained the initial interventions any longer? Could we have done it differently? The verdict is yours.
Link to full article