The Role Of Science And Technology In Policy Decisions; A Response To COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed brutally, the weaknesses of systems in addressing a pandemic. By far, over 2 million people have contracted the virus which has claimed over one hundred thousand lives. Epidemiologists are projecting an increase in the number of deaths and cases. The United States alone is projecting an infection of 15% of the population. Furthermore, the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on social life and economic growth. Recently, the IMF reviewed Ghana’s economic growth rate from 7.5 to 1.5 %.
Clearly, we are facing an existential threat. The manner and way with which leaders address this pandemic is key to determining the efficacy of each response. Some countries have succeeded in effectively mitigating the spread of the virus whilst others such as Spain and the United States continue to see a surge in the number of cases. This article seeks to explore the responses of various countries thus far in other to identify the “Silver bullet” in each response to COVID-19. It ends with an assessment of Ghana’s response so far.
When it comes to fighting COVID-19, ideological systems such as Capitalism, Socialism, Neoliberalism, etc. although impacting responses have been limited. Some of the most effective responses have largely been influenced by leaders who were willing to follow the science. Among the countries that have applied effective responses to the pandemic are New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Various reports have suggested the following as a recurring theme between these responses.
The willingness of leaders to follow the science and listen to the experts. New Zealand in its effort to fight COVID-19 established an 11-member technical advisory group called PITAG. The committee consisted of the country’s leading experts on public health and infectious diseases. Thus, at every point, the measures implemented by the government were informed by advice from this team according to the President. As of April 9, 2020, the country had recorded only one death from the coronavirus with declining cases for four consecutive days. Their response has been touted as one of the most effective in the world.
Countries such as the United States that dissolved their pandemic management team in 2018 are bearing the brunt of COVID-19. Politicians instead of experts have taken over decision making when it comes to COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ advisor on infectious diseases recently lamented the backlash his outfit faces when they advise the executive. Sadly, he admitted that had some of the recommendations been heeded to sooner, lives could have been saved. We have witnessed the impact on countries that were reluctant to lockdown despite expert advice. These outcomes provide an opportunity for countries to rethink their coronavirus response approach, moving forward.
Another influencing factor to the effective response to COVID-19 is Data. Data has proven to be crucial when it comes to this fight. In tackling the pandemic, countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan have had to bet on it. Their bet has proven worthwhile. These countries relied heavily on Health data, ATM transactions and travel history to follow the virus. Taiwan for instance relied heavily on data from its Centre for Disease and Control (CDC) to identify health patterns of citizens as far back as January 5, 2020. They started isolating citizens with symptoms of respiratory disease in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Hong Kong has had to rely on supermarket transactions, CCTVs and mobile applications to trace contacts and isolate. Consequently, they have successfully maintained a robust surveillance system that has aided them in fighting COVID-19.
The case of Ghana
Ghana has so far done its best in addressing COVID -19. However, various systemic weaknesses have limited the effectiveness of this fight. Without the benefit of a National infectious Disease Control center, the efforts at addressing COVID -19 has been largely fragmented. A unit such as this would have played a leading role in coordinating a national approach in tackling the pandemic. Secondly, the country does not have a robust data system where it can identify the locations of vulnerable groups for contract tracing and distribution of food items. This has led to chaos in various interventions counterintuitive to social distancing.
Whilst information is key in fighting a pandemic, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) has over the years been under-resourced. This has weakened its capacity to educate the public on the importance of social distancing and preventive measures against COVID -19. For this reason, a huge part of the population is underinformed on the measures and directives for addressing COVID -19. This pandemic necessitates a lot of work in public education that cannot be shouldered entirely by the information ministry. The NCCE with offices across the country could have played a much larger role in undertaking public sensitization and awareness campaigns to bolster current efforts.
As a country it behooves on us to assess our model thus far to identify its challenges in addressing the pandemic. Additionally, we ought to take lessons from other countries to lace with our approach. Moving forward, priority must be placed on improving systems including establishing a national disease control authority, resourcing the NCCE and improving infrastructure including transportation and markets. In the absence of vaccines and treatments, the fight against COVID -19 remains social.