Wherever there is right, there is responsibility. People will usually go haywire to fight for their rights and forget completely, whatsoever responsibility they have to honour. This is to say – as a people, we make reference to our fundamental human rights whenever we are unfairly treated, but will never bother about our civic responsibilities.
There are different forms of rights we enjoy, likewise many responsibilities to fulfill as Ghanaians per the constitution. One may argue that if we care less about all other forms of responsibilities as Ghanaians, why bother about the health responsibilities we have little or no knowledge about? If for nothing at all, the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus disease also known as COVID-19 has put the fear of neglecting our health responsibilities in us.
In Ghana, intimations such as “hygiene baa daben', to wit when did we start practicing hygiene? 'African germs are not harmful', 'no sickness can kill us' etc are common.
Many of us were unconcerned about personal hygiene and healthcare. But for COVID -19, which has claimed well over thirty thousand lives globally (as of April 2, 2020), reared its ugly head in Ghana in March to 'shake' all of us. Little did we know that Coronavirus has the capacity to trigger a signal that our seeming disinterest to be responsible for our own health and co-operate fully with healthcare providers could be fixed.
Responsibilities as prescribed in Ghana's patients' charter
Our first responsibility per the patient's charter of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) is for us to provide full and accurate medical history for our diagnosis, treatment, counseling and rehabilitation purposes. Many of us have failed to do this in our quest to seek healthcare thereby putting our lives and those of the health personnel in danger. We are fond of concealing relevant information about our health, travel and lifestyle history at the hospitals. Aside from the stigma we genuinely fear, this is extremely wrong given the danger it poses.
The story is told of how some relatives failed to disclose relevant information such as the travel history of their family members who had returned from Coronavirus hit countries for weeks. After a series of diagnoses, it later emerged that they had tested positive and in some cases died possibly from COVID -19. Here; clinicians and other patients were exposed to the virus through no faults of theirs. The family members have been exposed by their own inactions. Making full disclosures in these instances would better diagnosis, reduce the risk of exposure of health workers, other people and minimize the unending medico-legal issues in our health sector. This is the same way the health and safety of patients and staff are undermined anytime we hide information when receiving health care. In some instances, some have died because of wrong diagnosis and treatment because false information was given.
Complying with prescribed treatment, reporting adverse effects and adhering to follow up requests is a critical duty. Informing healthcare providers of any anticipated problems in following prescribed treatment or advice, as well as obtaining all necessary information, which has a bearing on management and treatment including all financial implications, are all-time neglected responsibility. Additionally, we're required to seek knowledge, on preventive, promotion and simple curative practices and where necessary to seek early professional help.
Amidst Coronavirus fears, we're now quick to clarify or seek a better interpretation of health information. Ghanaians are beginning to take advice from health experts seriously. We're now reporting symptoms and obviously obeying with topmost urgency, all given basic precautionary and other health promotion measures just to survive the virus. These are responsibilities we've taken for granted for some time.
Maintaining a safe and hygienic environment in order to promote good health is another important role. The least said about our disrespect of the rights of other patients, clients, health service personnel and the destruction of health items, the better.
Social or physical distancing may have come to our minds for the first time, but other viral infections such as Hepatitis, flu and the others are spread every single day due to overcrowding at most of our public places and transport system. Our indiscriminate spitting, coughing, sneezing, touching of others, eyes and noses with infected hands, touching of unsafe surfaces are things we're all distancing from today due to Coronavirus.
Hitherto, this wasn't our story. You and I pick up equally similar viral infections on a daily basis. This definitely calls for attitudinal change; think about the next person and put an end to many unhygienic practices. It's time for us to ensure our own good health. No one should now tell us to cover our mouth when coughing or nose when sneezing or stay at home if there is no urgency. We should be mindful when we step out for work, school and church. We must avoid crowds. We should sit in public transport with all precaution. Henceforth, we must end the handshakes, body contacts and irregular hand washing. If we can't shun all these, we're obliged to protect ourselves as if there was a 'Corona'.
Spiritual nexus of health
Where medical care is ideally the first port of call in seeking healthcare, the alternative treatment to restore health in Ghana through spiritual means exists given the part of the world we find ourselves in. We can't take away the relationship that exists between religiosity and health. While we understand the socio-cultural dimensions of health beliefs and practices of the ordinary Ghanaian, we're also dealing with a 'devil' at hand.
Ghanaians from all religious faiths joined the President's directive for a national day of fast and prayers. Pastors and Muslim clerics are joining to fight the outbreak. Whilst we're at this, never did we neglect what the health practitioners had told us right from the onset. It was a mixture of scientific knowledge and spirituality. This should definitely be a clarion call to us who carry the sick to prayer camps for months and only show up at the hospital at the last minute when the disease is at its advanced stage. Prayer and science will work, but embracing one more than the other could be detrimental. If we could adopt an equal approach to spiritual and medical treatment to reverse this trend, it will definitely bring an end to some chronic illness and deaths recorded as a result of late medical treatment.
Legislating health preventive measures
Government's intervention and directives in the wake of the pandemic may have been top-notch, given the massive support from a large portion of the citizenry. Talk of the market disinfection exercises, the mandatory use of veronica buckets and hand sanitizers at various public places, the reduction in the number of people at public gatherings, social distancing measures and the continuous sensitization among other things that are being carried out in our own interest. This should probably be an everyday thing and become part of us.
Perhaps, this is also the time government considers passing into law most of these directives to tackle the numerous health issues already bedeviling us as Ghanaians. Regulating these measures will go a long way to crack the whip on individuals whose unsafe practices make others susceptible to contracting diseases. These laws should force public and private institutions to put hand washing materials at their entrances. Restaurants, food vendors, drinking bars and hoteliers must ensure enhanced hygiene all year round. We should consider putting put a cap on large gatherings. Schools, churches and offices should have a minimum number of people at a time or in a room. The large numbers at these places is a major health risk. Our markets, schools and transport terminals should be disinfected and decongested every now and then. Commercial vehicles should ensure proper spacing among passengers. The Imposition of Restriction Act, 2020 if possible, could also be relooked at to check our unnecessary movements in town. Those of us who will flout these laws must also be dealt with.
The Gospel according to Coronavirus
This too shall pass! This too shall pass! This too shall pass! That's what we seem to have respite in as far as tackling the spread of the virus is concerned. Almost all socio-economic activities have ground at a halt affecting our normal way of life. Indeed, it shall pass. COVID-19 will definitely not stay with us forever. But after it leaves all of us and every single life activity returns to normal, what lifestyle-changing lessons will we have learned? 'For lack of knowledge, we perish' – they say. The knowledge is here for all of us now.
COVID-19 might have hit the world and for that matter Ghana hard but brought some lessons. We should definitely not wait for another pandemic before we take our health concerns seriously. Many are the effects of our disregard for health and safety measures causing us more harm than good. The government's role is to provide logistics to tackle any pandemic because we have the right to health care as citizens. But, it's time for us to reflect on the outcomes of shunning our health responsibilities by honoring specified precautionary measures every now and then even after the end of the outbreak. We needn't go back to our 'I don't care' attitude and repeat the same vicious cycle because humans are a factor in disease transmission.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is now our blue-print as Ghanaians on how to deal with viral infections by honoring our health responsibilities. It is undoubtedly, our wake-up call as a people not to continue exposing ourselves to the already existing viral diseases that have not taken the world by storm yet and those to come. A healthy nation is a wealthy nation – Coronavirus in Ghana? Yes, with an increasing number of recorded cases, some recoveries and deaths. These aren't ordinary times but this too shall pass!
The writer, Nii Larte Lartey, works with Citi FM, Citi TV and citinewsroom.com