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19.04.2020 Feature Article

A Pandemic In Human Form

A Pandemic In Human Form
LISTEN APR 19, 2020

It was during twilight when I was getting some items from my mother at Buduburam and returning to campus that I heard the strange announcement that the University of Ghana has been close down. If I could recall properly, it was a Sunday, on 15th March 2020. I had left campus for an Ideological study session at Kasoa in the morning and spent the rest of the day home to prepare for another demanding week.

I met Cecil Sampson, the vice president of True Culture University that very morning I was leaving campus. He seemed troubled with this particular routine of mine: leaving campus every two weeks for yet another political study elsewhere. But nothing would stop my enthusiasm. I travelled to Kasoa in a tight seating troski even as the news broke that two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Ghana.

The meeting took place with heated arguments on several political issues. I had warned in the previous meeting about the alarming rate with which the coronavirus is spreading. Speculations were rife that the USA is the only benefactor as China grapples with the woe of its epidemic. The possibility that the epidemic was a biological attack was considered to some extent. At this particular meeting, 'coronavirus' still found it space in our discussion; the virus has spread to other countries and has been declared as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization(WHO).

Just as I was about to board a troski bound for Madina, I received a call from my brother Kwabena, who broke the news of the sudden suspension of lectures and supposed screening of residents on campus. He added that a female student of the pharmacy department, who returned from abroad a few days back has tested positive. The school was said to be putting measures in place to trace all persons she has had contact with since she touched down on campus.

I was indecisive for a while. So I called a mate who confirmed what he said. Still unconvinced, I scanned through my Whatsapp groups and came across the Vice-chancellor's communiqué.

I immediately took a taxi back home with mixed feelings about what is happening.

That very evening around 11pm, the president of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo declared measures to ensure social distancing and announced the closure of schools and other public related activities.

The following morning, the family was at a standstill, whether to allow my younger siblings to go to school before official closure by their school administration or to strictly adhere to the president's order. My father finally decided to stop them from leaving the house for school. They had dressed in their uniform and seemed unhappy with my father's decision.

The realities of the time became clearer and clearer and in few days I also realised l was developing a cold with some unusual cough. Drastic measures were being aired all over the media to tackle the pandemic. For some of us, we thought for the government to stop churches and mosques from operating, everything else was possible and things could be worse, knowing how idealism is rooted in many Ghanaians.

The idea of lockdown was anticipated. A few days before the lockdown Amodani Gariba, Chairman of the Nkrumahist Circle had expressed grave dissatisfaction to me about the proposed lockdown, alluding to the poor living conditions of Ghanaians, where many live from hand to mouth. He questioned how the lockdown will be effective in slums like Nima, where most essential domestic facilities like bathroom and toilet are shared by a large number of people. He held that the consequences of a lockdown will kill us faster than the virus.

By the ending of March, the President had ordered Tema, Accra, Kasoa, and Kumasi to be put under lockdown. I was full of pity two days into the lockdown. Augustine Yaw Bannie, a fellow at radio Universe, had shared award-winning journalist, Manasseh Azure's article on the negative effects of the lockdown on the vulnerable. The writer elaborated on the humiliating effects of the lockdown on some tens of thousands of head porters, known as 'Kayaye'.

The situation exacerbated my negative sentiments about the Pandemic. It came out that the Kayaye workers were promise re-location, daily food and a stipend of 10 cedis as their relief packages. According to the president of the kayayei, while speaking on Atinka TV, they were about fifteen thousand in number. The controversies seemed endless.

Myself, I began seeing all the symptoms of the virus except for fever and difficulty in breathing after two weeks. Could it be that I came into contact with an infected person before I left campus or with someone in the trotro. I became a bit nervous, but also confident I would survive whether or not I had the virus. My father recommended some painkillers, but I secretly refused to take them.

I became more careful with contacting everyone in the house as the cough became unbearable. I decided to try the traditional heat system use for treating malaria. This method involves boiling leaves from the Nim tree and inhaling the vapour while covered in a blanket. I tried this because I had seen a video made by one lecturer at Koforidua Technical University. She held that it was essentially the principle being used in China to cure patients of the virus. A few comrades began to suspect I had the virus so I fell back on this method.

Meanwhile, the cases in Ghana started to increase while the country was under lockdown. The lockdown was extended for another week and I was awash with a sentiment from many people I know. I knew for certain that whether or not the lockdown would be effective, it is unlikely to reduce the spread. ‘Government’s measures should be keen on those coming into the country’; I said this to a number of my friends.

Reflecting on Amodani's words, the truth was becoming clear: he thought mass testing would have rather worked, instead of a lockdown. Two weeks into the lockdown, I conceded to him, the measures put in place were not enough to reduce spread. Community members in Kasoa and elsewhere continue to intermingle. The way food relief items were distributed to the vulnerable defeats the very purpose of the lockdown and the technique of social distancing.

It is not 'partisan politics' to question the usefulness of a lockdown if government through the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) will end up causing mass crowding with food aid. The government seems to be acting in good faith in battling COVID-19 but the institutions and policies laid down seem to be inefficient in execution.

I sat in my room reflecting on what is happening in Ghana and I resolved that a lockdown is not sustainable for Ghana. We are exhorting our produce without replacement and grounding Ghana’s economic machine with a lockdown which will probably fail at curtailing the spread.'83’ May repeat itself and we will be battling covid-19 with weaken immune systems.

Partisan food distribution in times of a humanitarian crisis like this is also not sustainable. It occurred to me that, the government better hasten research into the virus and to work on cure internally or resort to our traditional system that can deal with the virus and aid recovery.

I thought I had the virus, but I am well now. Fortunately, we received some good news from the Noguchi Medical Research Institute on their study of the virus by 15th April 2020. It strengthens my suggestion that we rather become self-reliant at this moment and find a cure to the viral infection rather than locking ourselves up when we cannot afford it. If it becomes overwhelming, we cannot afford extensions in lockdown beyond a month nor a lockdown on the whole nation.

If those western nations are finding it difficult to get a vaccine or cure, it doesn't mean we cannot. Let's believe in our system and ourselves. Let invest in a cure. We should stop travels to Ghana and fast-track independent research for cure or vaccines. I still reflect on this stance as I remain in my room with a simple but heavy question weighing my head; How will this nation look like in the next two decades?

Can we continue being over-reliant on western countries? They seemed invincible but failed on something a country like China has dealt with. I reflect on the possibility that awaits us if we view the pandemic as a human who is advising us to be self-reliant. It appears hurting but sometimes those who tell us the truth hurt us dearly. Corona is advising us.

God bless our homeland Ghana.

Alfred Arhin Otoo
Alfred Arhin Otoo, © 2020

The author has 5 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: AlfredArhinOtoo

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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