Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a welter of safety and preventive protocols have been announced to stop the spread of the virus. While many of these preventive measures are generic and may be applicable worldwide, others are country and/or continent-specific.
Safety measures such as staying at home, adhering to social distancing; regular washing of hands with soap under running water; using alcohol-based hand sanitizer; not shaking hands; covering mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and disposing of tissue into a bin; as well as avoiding touching mouth, eyes and nose are generic practices required to be observed in all COVID-19-affected countries.
Country and/or continent-specific safety protocols are needed because of the different conditions under which the virus spreads and kills in different countries and continents. The rate of COVID-19 infections and mortalities in, for example, Europe and Africa backs this assertion. So clearly, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the COVID-19 fight as President Akufo-Addo stated in one of his COVID-19 updates.
Before writing this article, I have made conscious attempts to find out from a number of people why Ghanaians are wearing face masks. Some said the president pronounced it. Others said WHO recommended it, while the majority said the masks protected the transmission of viral droplets from infected persons. The latter response has indeed been the scientific basis for the wearing of face masks everywhere.
But this has got me thinking and asking a lot of questions because I feel so uncomfortable seeing Ghanaians wearing face masks under this sweltering weather conditions. I have been asking:
1. What is the origin of the research or findings that recommended the wearing of face masks? Europe, Asia or… I doubt if it emanated from Africa or Ghana.
2. Under what circumstances were the studies conducted? Possibly under cold, chilling and freezing temperatures if it did not emanate from Africa.
3. Was Africa’s harsh weather conditions and other geographic factors are taken into account in these studies? I doubt.
4. Has there been any attempt by African scientists to understand the behavior of the virus-filled droplets in hot temperatures? I doubt.
If my responses to these vexed questions are all correct, then why this me-too face mask-wearing in Ghana? I honestly think the weather is too hot to be wearing face masks, especially when we haven’t done any local investigations under our prevailing conditions to prove its efficacy.
This is another trenchant call that COVID-19 has been making to Africa, and by extension Ghana: Be self-reliant, critical and free thinkers! Let’s stop slavish adherence to everything our superpowers say or do. No one-size-fits-all solution because of country-specific and continental differences and conditions.
Time, knowledge, and experience have told us so far, that for some reason, Africans are more resistant and resilient to COVID-19 than other continents, especially Europe. Africa should, therefore, be leading this COVID fight. What are those things standing in our good stead? These are what we need to find out so we promote, and this calls for more homemade solutions. “Eat local food rich in vitamins to boost our immune system,” this is homemade, enviably guided by Ghanaians.
And if by now we have been able to establish through science that the sun kills the virus, then we could have another homegrown message encouraging citizens to stand in the sun for at least 30 minutes daily. But no, we haven’t! We rather prefer wearing face masks which recommendation stemmed from researches conducted possibly under chilling and freezing conditions far different from our sweltering weather conditions.
A local research on how the virus-filled droplets behave in hot temperatures would have indicated whether we need to wear masks or not. And by wearing face masks under this hot temperature, who knows whether we not even keeping the virus alive on our lips, noses, and cheeks instead of being killed by the sun? Only God also knows what other diseases we are inviting for ourselves wearing these face masks under this hot weather.
So if wearing face masks in Ghana is not backed by any local science, but purely on the me-too approach, then we might be suffocating ourselves under this hot weather for nothing. No wonder that instead of the face or nose masks, Ghanaians have now turned it into the mouth, chin, and neck masks.
I am not a scientist or a medical person. I’m only thinking aloud and re-echoing the need for us to be self-reliant, critical, and free thinkers. If COVID-19 fails to let Africa and for that matter, Ghana, free ourselves forever from colonial albatross, then I don’t know when.
The writer is a development practitioner, rights, and anti-corruption campaigner.