As at the time of authoring this piece, it is reported by the World Health Organization (https://who.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/c88e37cfc43b4ed3baf977d77e4a0667) that there are 267,013 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 11,201 related deaths globally reported from over 180 countries. China, Italy, Spain, Iran, Germany, the USA, and France are reported by WHO as areas with the highest cases of COVID-19. There are 47,021 and 19,980 confirmed cases in Italy and Spain respectively.
In Africa, Egypt has 285 confirmed COVID-19 cases while South Africa has 240 confirmed cases. Other African countries such as Nigeria, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Togo, Kenya, among others are also reporting cases of COVID-19. As at 21st March 2020, Ghana had 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with one confirmed related death.
When the outbreak of COVID-19 was first recorded in China and some parts of Europe, one popular rhetoric among some of my African and Ghanaian brothers and sisters was that “it’s a white man’s disease”. When few African countries like Egypt, Nigeria, Ivory Coast et cetera had imported cases and didn’t record horizontal/community spread, some of my African and Ghanaian brothers and sisters again said: “the disease (COVID-19) had no potential to thrive here in Africa”. I took strong opposition to these views and assumptions at the time, stating that such assumptions were unfounded and lacked scientific and research evidence.
African countries are today recording COVID-19 cases, and the number of confirmed cases are on the ascendency among many African countries, including Ghana – recording double digits, and records of horizontal transmissions with projections of further spread. As at 21st March 2020, 19 COVID-19 cases with one confirmed death have been recorded in Ghana.
As a student of Public Health, I have always had my ears and eyes wide open to issues of public health anytime I traveled across cities and rural communities of Ghana. After recording cases of COVID-19 in our major cities – Accra and Kumasi, I have observed that a section of my Ghanaian brothers and sisters in smaller towns and rural communities are also of the view that COVID-19 is a disease for those in the “cities” – that is, people in the “upper class” who could afford plane tickets. These perceptions are not only worrying but a big threat to the containment efforts being implemented by the government and other agencies.
Quite apart from these prejudices and erroneous perceptions being held by a section of the population and the low level of perceived susceptibility to coronavirus infection, there still exists this huge gap in knowledge in relation to the prevention of COVID-19 infection.
It’s important we intensify education and awareness on the prevention of COVID-19. Let’s not underrate the power of health education in our collective efforts to prevent further spread of the disease. Health education is one of the best approaches we could adopt to containing the disease in Ghana.
In embarking on our public health education on COVID-19, we must get it right. In getting it right, we must endeavour to use trained professionals who have some level of knowledge in Public Health, Health Education and Health Promotion. Trust me, we have a chunk of junior and senior professionals in the aforementioned fields, including students in this country who are willing to volunteer their services for the fight against COVID-19. The government only needs to show that committed to public health education and place that call; the response and the expected outcome will be massive.
It is important government channels financial resources into procuring more PPEs, establish more laboratories, procure more test kits et cetera for frontline clinicians. But it is equally important we channel some of the resources into public health education and awareness to achieve that balance/equilibrium in our fight against COVID-19.
If we are shifting too much attention to clinical management of COVID-19, at the expense of public education and prevention, we may be creating a situation where we will eventually place clinicians on a “hill”, well equipped, while we place the population with limited knowledge on COVID-19 prevention in a “valley”, waiting for those in the “valley” to contract the disease and come to the hill (laboratories and health facilities) for testing and management. This approach, if adopted, would eventually put a strain on our limited healthcare facilities and frontline clinicians. Frontline healthcare clinicians and facilities will become overwhelmed like we are experiencing in other jurisdictions experiencing the pandemic.
One of the best ways to break the chain of people falling sick in the “valley” and trooping to our laboratories/hospitals is to have other health professionals go into the “valley” to empower them (those in the valley) with the needed health information and reduce or break the chain of transmission.
People in some parts of the country are still sharing drinking glasses and calabashes at drinking spots. We are talking about drinking glasses and calabashes which are poorly washed under unhygienic conditions in small towns and villages during these extraordinary times of COVID-19 pandemic. The government must work with other agencies and partners to scale up behaviour change/modification efforts now! Behaviour “change” is not an event and does not occur overnight.
Let’s not wait and look forward to a lockdown as an antidote for containing the spread of this virus. I fear we may not be able to implement a lockdown successfully like how it has been done in other jurisdictions.
Yes, test, test and test, but let’s also educate, educate and educate.
Author: Samson Gbolu
Health Promotion Activist and Social Entrepreneur.