Accra(G/R), The Alumni of the of the Graduate Students' Association of Ghana (GRASAG) is calling on the government to act quickly and decisively amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when choosing between alternatives to curb the spread of the virus among citizens.
''We should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of country we would be living in when the pandemic is over'' the group stated.
The group is also calling on the citizenry to also ensure the efficient use of the resources and prevent wastage during this time of the era so that we all can complement the effort if the government in dealing with the pandemic.
This was contained in an article issued the group to add their voices to the numerous calls by citizens and below is the article……
GHANA'S COVID-19: THE HARD TRUTH
Ghana officially confirmed its first 2 imported cases of COVID-19 on 12th March 2020. Within 12 days after the first 2 cases, the country recorded over 53 other cases both imported (vertical) and community-based (horizontal) transmissions and 2 deaths (as at 24/03/2020).
Ghana, like other countries, responded with several laid down protocols and announced a total shut of its sea, land and air borders to the international community as a measure to prevent vertical transmissions. Ghanaian citizens and other nationals' resident who arrived at the Airport on the Sunday, 22nd March, 2020, were put on a 14 day mandatory quarantine by the government.
On 26/03/2020, 79 new cases and 1 confirmed death was announced, made up of positive results from tests on travelers who were put under the mandatory quarantine and the general population, bringing the total cases to 132 with 3 casualties.
However, we believe there are many measures that can be adopted to prevent the intra-country and community-based spread of the virus. It is to this point that Health and Security experts are advocating for a partial or total lockdown of Accra-Tema, Kumasi-Obuasi or stay at home policy with strict travel and trade domestic protocols and partial lockdown of residential areas, taking cue from the community spread of the virus in North America, Europe and Asia.
Most of the countries that have done well in the fight against the novel virus have flattened the curve; no matter what we do, transmission may be unavoidable, but the magnitude and severity will be a major concern. This calls for robust measures to reduce the reproduction rate within the country since our health care system may crumble to its knees should we record 1000s of cases.
The authors of this article propose the following essential measures to the Government and other stakeholders in Ghana to proactively cut the lines of wider transmission.
A. Reducing the Transmission Rate
I. Pandemic Center: The Government of Ghana through the Ministry of Health should explore the possibility of remodeling the University of Ghana Medical Center (UGMC) in Legon, and the KNUST Hospital (KNUST-H) to serve as the main/primary Pandemic Centers for the period of the “WAR AGAINST COVID-19”.
These facilities which were built and well equipped with the requisite facilities would best serve the purpose of treating special cases such as infectious diseases like the COVID-19.
II. Emergency Centers: While the Universities remain shut to students, the University of Ghana Estate Limited (UGEL) Hostels on University of Ghana campus and other similar hostels in KNUST can hold up a great number of mild positive cases for observation and containment, before escalating into critical emergency cases, under prescribed WHO monitoring standards considering its proximity to the main Pandemic Centers.
III. Containment Blocks in other Regions: As a matter of urgency, there must be the political will to develop in lieu, containment blocks in the other regions by classifying them into four sectors; Northern, Eastern/Volta, South-Western, and the Middle Belt.
These centers should be well staffed with young and vibrant front-line workers with expert knowledge in infectious disease control and management to augment the two main Pandemic/Emergency Centers. Using the already congested large Hospitals with fully packed OPD's increases the rate of transmission of the respiratory disease hence secluded facilities like the Navrongo Hospital, Agogo and other well-equipped hospitals should be freed up and dedicated to serve as isolation/quarantine centers.
IV. Ambulance Transport Policy: The newly improved ultra-modern ambulance service system will best serve the citizens by delivering real time first aid service for suspected cases while transporting them to the Emergency Centers to be tested and treated. Being the most efficient emergency transport network for the period of the partial or total lockdown, the ambulance service's focus should be realigned and stationed within a radius of about 10km from the locations where positive cases have been identified so far and such areas be treated as high risk areas for a period of at least 21 days.
V. Security Services Strategy: In the face of this pandemic and with lessons from the community spread of the virus in North America, Europe and Asia, it is highly recommended that Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions where the 93 confirmed cases in Ghana have been recorded, is put on a partial or total locked down to prevent a horizontal transmission. Albeit , for strict adherence to this new development, we may need to empower the security forces and tighten the patrol teams to blot out all who may flout this emergency rules.
VI. Contact Tracing & Mapping Strategy: Hope is not a strategy in tackling emergencies. The Ministry of Health, Aviation, Local Government, Interior, National Security and Information should concern themselves with global trends and produce a blueprint on how to manage threats of this nature with a clear-cut plan on investment in the health sector (public health) to provide solutions in the shortest time.
The team of experts must identify high risk areas to conduct a thorough contact tracing exercise and subject suspects to laboratory test on same, i.e., friends, neighbors, nuclear and extended families of the infected persons. Additionally, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority should provide detailed information of all entrants from 15th March till date to ascertain through laboratory testing the likelihood of such persons not being infected by the novel virus. This would help track down in infected persons and slow down the rate of possible horizontal transmission.
VII. Testing Centers: We commend the government's innovativeness to upgrade the Health Research center in Kintampo to start testing suspected cases in the Northern sector and propose that similar facilities be identified and transformed into regional testing centers, and equip them with the requisite testing equipment to augment the existing ones.
The Department of Agriculture laboratory in University of Cape Coast, and other selected laboratories in some key Universities can be considered in this endeavor. This reduces the risk of stretching the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) and the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) beyond the capacities of their facilities and staff.
VIII. Engage Global Experts: The Government of Ghana should supplement the inadequate health workers in the country by importing experts and well experienced professionals in the industry from countries like China or Cuba where the novel virus has been widely managed. China has by far been successful in the containment of the corona virus transmission and we propose that the government engages the Chinese Embassy in Ghana to secure advisors and a technical team from China where very few active cases remain to be declared free of the virus.
IX. Foreign Trade for Emergency Equipment: The Ghanaian embassies in the developed countries should engage industries to produce more emergency equipment needed by the Ghana Health Service for the successful containment exercise and health care provision. The embassies in China, South Korea, Germany and Japan must lobby for more materials, including, ventilators, masks, and test kits to be directed to the republic to prepare for an unfortunate hike in suspected cases.
B. Securing Workers I. Stimulation and Training: We must strategically relieve the pressure off the large and busy hospitals which are mostly congested by the influx of emergencies/specialized cases. We must critically implore the option of contracting more health workers (such as the Cuban-trained Ghanaian doctors, medical doctors, laboratory technicians, and public health graduates awaiting financial clearance to be recruited) and epidemiologists to be transferred to emergency centers immediately, with intensive professional training on management of the cases.
II. Provision of PPE: The provision of Personal Protective Equipment for all frontline workers in the Health and Service delivery industry cannot be delayed any further. Complaints of the lack of this equipment have surfaced and the government through the Ministry of Health must at full tilt, provide such equipment to prevent the patient to doctor transmissions. The lack of adequate PPE is a threat to quality health care in such emergency situations and we hope that this can be averted.
III. Isolation of Workers and Insurance: All health workers that are engaged should be kept in isolated units until the disease has extensively been tackled since they pose a threat to the general public by being excessively exposed to infected persons and this has the potential of increased transmission. Also the Government should put together a lucrative insurance package for the engaged workers in the fight against the novel virus. Frontline health workers who leave their families behind and stand a high risk of contracting the COVID-19, deserve a greater commitment and insurance cover (for the workers and their families) for their engagement in the sensitive roles.
IV. Workforce & Financial Sector Protection: “These are not ordinary times”, as described by the President of the Republic, and for that matter there ought to be sacrifices from both ends of the financial economy. While the Government of Ghana through executive powers instructs the early payment of civil and public servants, The Ministry of Finance should also meet industry players and have discussions on the possible payment of salaries in full to workers for their period of engagement. The Ministry of Finance through the central bank should consider cushioning the gap that may arise to business owners and investors in the towns earmarked for the lockdown.
C. Provision of Utilities & Interventions
I. Electricity & Water: The various agencies and institutions in charge of Electricity and Water supply should ensure the non-erratic supply to the domestic users during this time. Washing of hands under running water is a key preventive measure in combating the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic.
We therefore call on citizens to also ensure the efficient use of the resources and prevent wastage. The use of Veronica Buckets is highly recommended to households during this period.
II. Data/Internet Services: The various Communication Service providers should be engaged by the Ministry of Communication to ensure that quality service is delivered because citizens would depend on the internet for information, consultations and/or business operations.
III. Emergency Financial Intervention: The Bank of Ghana should liaise with telecommunication companies and financial institutions to ensure optimal use of the digital money transaction & solution platforms to discourage the use of cash in the financial systems during the lockdown (and subsequently after). Payment of delivery services and other essential items should be made via the digital platforms. We further propose that soft loans (to a ceiling of GHS100.00/person) through the mobile money/digital platforms, linked to the applicant's individual Tax Identification Number to assist in service payments.
IV. Suspension of Financial Risks: The Government of Ghana, through the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank should engage financial institutions for an intervention in loan repayment and possible fuel reduction for the period of the lockdown. Small and Medium Enterprises who may have accessed business loans would be out of business for the lockdown and these loan repayments would not be unbearable for the firms. Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) have also expressed worry over working conditions (prices of fuel and loan repayments) which they say, if not addressed, would hinder their strict compliance with the social distancing rule. The Government of Ghana who is the sole determinant of fuel prices in Ghana, should therefore consider a sharp reduction to cushion the transport operators for adherence with the new emergency directives and public safety.
D. Provision of Basic Amenities
I. Needy and Less Privileged: We acknowledge the reality of some citizens' difficulty to stock their homes with enough food before the lockdown, i.e., less privileged in society, single parents, street children. With support from the food and beverages industries, the Ministries of Local Government, Gender, Children and Social Protection must team up with Non-Governmental Organizations to swiftly establish relief centers in identified locations where 'streetism' is known to be high to provide these basic services to the Needy and Less Privileged/People with disability.
II. Goods Sales and Purchase Plan: The government must expedite actions for the lockdown. We know where our food baskets are as a country. The Ministry of Trade, Information, Interior and National Security must ensure that essential goods and services are transported under prescribed protocol taking cognizance of protocols observed for essential services in all cities locked down in North America, Asia and Europe. Like China and the United States, supermarkets, grocery shops and food providers are opened at a regulated time for citizens to get foodstuffs.
III. Sanitation facilities for homes: As we are all aware, the best antidote to the spread of the pandemic is the strict observation of good Personal Hygiene practices. The Ministry of Sanitation should therefore be up and doing, to hold briefings with sanitation experts who shall ensure that there is regular safe collection and disposal of refuse from domestic users. Mobile toilets can be acquired to serve as the best short-term solution and must be provided to some communities where the challenge persists.
IV. Low Income Class Consideration: We call on the local assemblies to assist in providing a balance for some families who rely solely on the trade duties of parents in the markets and may find it difficult stocking up before the lockdown, to provide some needed essentials for such families. Industry giants can also provide products for such families as a Corporate Social Responsibility. There is the need for a multistakeholder involvement in the process with government's readiness to provide foodstuff and other essentials services to people for free, taking into consideration the social distancing and sanitation protocols.
E. Role of Churches and Religious Groups I. Supporting Government Efforts: We also call on all religious groups to support the government by providing shelter, food and water to the needy in society like the orphanages, the prisons and other organizations who are concerned with social aid, especially in these uncommon times. Ghana is now facing a health crisis which does not only affect us but our neighbors around the globe. Perhaps the biggest crisis our generation has ever witnessed. The decisions and measures taken by our government and leaders in the next few days/weeks are critical and will probably shape our country for years to come.
They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of country we would be living in when the pandemic is over. Desperate situations require desperate measures. We need to act as a country and the time to act is now.
God bless our Homeland Ghana, And make our Nation Great and Strong.
1. Kwesi Acquah Sam, Former National Secretary: 2015/2016
2. Richard Apau, Former National Public Relations Officer: 2016/2017
3. Ernest Obeng, Former National Vice President: 2016/2017
4. Israel Norshie, GRASAG-GIJ Member: 2019/2020
5. Rock Ashley, GRASAG-UG Member: 2018/2019
6. Stephen Tamatey, GRASAG-UPSA Member: 2015/2016