Fighting COVID-19: The Lessons So Far
Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is a new strain of the virus. Being of the respiratory type, it is believed that the virus leaves the body by way of the nose and mouth. It is supposed to enter the body by way of the nose, mouth or eyes. The disease causes a respiratory illness with symptoms such as fever, cough, and difficulty in breathing as it becomes severe.
What started in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and was called by some politicians as the ‘Chinese Virus’ has now become a global pandemic, wreaking havoc in nations, stretching hitherto some of the robust health systems beyond limits, leaving a trail of dead bodies behind as it sweeps across the globe and keeping the whole world in suspense. Major economies are under partial shutdown as lockdown measures have been employed just to contain the spread of the virus. The scientist has tried, but coming out with a potent drug or a vaccine has been elusive.
As the virus was wreaking havoc in China and Europe, Africa was yet to record a case. This made some people to unscientifically conclude that the ‘Blackman’ was immune to the virus. On the contrary, Africa recorded its first case on February 14, 2020, in Egypt.
And Nigeria was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to record a case on February 27, 2020, when an Italian citizen in Lagos tested positive, after which a Nigerian citizen who had had contact with him also tested positive in March 9, 2020. This debunked the myth that the ‘Blackman’ has some form of natural immunity to COVID-19, rather the ‘Blackman’ is as susceptible as any race; COVID-19 is no respecter of race
Ghana being part of the global village, it was only a matter of ‘when’ it will record its first case. Unfortunately, that moment happened and Ghana recorded its first two cases of COVID-19 on the 12th March, when two people returned from Norway and Turkey, contact tracing process was then initiated.
Though these were imported cases as reported by the health minister, Hon. Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, there was great concern and agitation among Ghanaians because of our ‘poor’ health system and communal lifestyle as a people. From the time Ghana recorded its first case on March 12, 2020, to April 20, 2020, when this article was written, Ghana’s confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen to 1042.
The most profound thing about the pandemic is not just the speed of its spread, but the complete mystery and conspiracy theories surrounding it. Nobody seems to be certain about the origin of the virus as its true source has become a bone of contention among countries, media houses, religious leaders and even some scientists. Some believe it is a biological weapon gone rogue, others believe it is because of the installation of 5G network across the major cities of the world, with religious figures also having dichotomous view; with one side saying it is the wrath of God and the other believing it is the work of the devil. Most interestingly, everyone has a strong argument to back their assertion.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned theories, we are in unchartered territory, the virus has to be fought and defeated as its devastating effect on human lives and economies can clearly be seen. How it came is not as important to man now as how to stop it.
There is currently however no existing drug or vaccine to fight the virus with since it is a novelty. Countries all over the world have laid out a number of preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus and Ghana is no exception. Some of these preventive measures which are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) include; social distancing, staying at home, frequent washing of hands under running water or using alcohol-based sanitizer and covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
The president of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced a full two weeks lockdown for various epicentres of the coronavirus (i.e. some parts of Greater Accra, Greater Kumasi, and Tema) on March 27, 2020, which took effect on Monday, March 31, 2020, after which he extended it by a week from Monday, April 13, 2020. This was all in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus to the extent of stretching our already weak health system beyond capacity.
How effective have all these preventive measures to contain COVID-19 been thus far? It is in a positive direction to take an introspective view of the effectiveness or otherwise of these preventive measures in controlling COVID-19.
Three main factors can be identified thus far as standing in the way of controlling spread:
First is the personal character of the preventive measures employed.
The enteric infections (e.g. diarrhoea) can be controlled by generic measures that do not enforce great restriction upon the behaviour of the individual, but this cannot be said of respiratory infections which COVID-19 is an example.
Health workers cannot just collect the waste products of COVID-19 patients containing the infective virus in a sewage system where they can be properly disposed of as in typhoid or diarrhoea. The excreta of the nose and mouth from COVID-19 positive persons are projected into the air and allowed to pollute the hands, food, clothing, in fact, the entire environment of the infected person and anything he/she subsequently touches. This is done unconsciously, invisibly, unsuspectingly.
It is of great interest to note that the kind of preventive measures which must be taken in order to control the COVID-19 infections is delegate upon the persons who are already infected, while those who are liable to contract the disease can do little to protect themselves.
Consequently, the burden is placed where it is not likely to be well carried. People are advised to stay at home if they are coughing, but the response is; ‘but we have always been coughing going about our normal duties, why stay home?’
It does not lie in human nature for a man who thinks he has only a slight cough to shut himself up in isolation as a means of protecting others on the bare suspicion that his cough may turn out to be a really dangerous infection. In Ghana where there are a plethora of traditional medicine and most people self-diagnose without visiting the hospital, such person may easily diagnose him/herself and look for traditional medicine to control a ‘normal’ cough while going about infecting others.
The second factor which stands in the way of controlling spread is public indifference.
People still do not appreciate or understand the risks associated with the COVID-19 virus. They see the measures suggested as far-fetched; others think we are trying to kill a mosquito with a sledge hammer. Yet we hear of people dying in their numbers in Europe and America. People are still defying all the recommended preventive measures with impunity. Others in lockdown areas try to find the least flimsy excuse to defy the lockdown. This has led to some alleged security brutalities and even reported death at Ashiaman.
There have been cases of weddings, parties, funerals, church services and the worst of all was when people gathered in their numbers at the Chorkor beach on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020. These are all happening on the back of the president banning social gatherings and all mass activities.
The great intricacy and range in severity of the COVID-19 pandemic confuse and hide the danger. This makes people be out of touch with the severity of what we are dealing with.
The infections vary from sore throat, tiredness, fever to dry cough.
The infection sometimes seems to start in the chest and other times in the throat. This is usually how common cold appears. It is generally more discomforting than dangerous.
The symptoms at the beginning may be identical with those of the common cold and the true nature of the disease escape notice until the patient shows unmistakable and alarming symptoms, at which point it may be far too late. By that time other persons may have been infected. On average it takes 5-6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days. During this period, the infected person can spread the virus.
Third, the highly infectious nature of the COVID-19 virus adds to the difficulty of controlling it.
The astronomical increase in the number of newly infected cases and deaths in a single day in the western world leaves one in awe. The period of incubation varies considerably; in some infections, it may take up to 14 days before one becomes fully aware that he/she is infected. And the virus may have been transmitted to other people he contacted who also will transmit to their contacts before the first patient himself is even aware that he is attacked. As a result of this, you do not even know who has it within your sphere.
For this reason, WHO recommends staying at home and advising countries to test, test, test, and test to know who has and who has not, as everyone can be a suspected carrier. It is in mass testing that proper isolation and quarantine can be done to curb the spread of the virus.
The obstacles expounded above which stand in the way of controlling the coronavirus may appropriately be closed by emphasising that healthy persons can carry about in their bodies the virus of COVID-19, thereby unconsciously acting as a continuing danger to themselves and a menace to others. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that of all the preventive measures being taken to stop the spread of the virus, it still seems to be surging.
There is one and only one way to absolutely protect ourselves from contracting the coronavirus and that is by establishing absolute isolation both as a nation and as individuals. It is necessary to shut off those who are capable of giving off the virus from those who are capable of being infected, or vice versa. This is a very difficult procedure, but a necessity with proven efficiency. That is why the first thing President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo did was to isolate the country by closing all its borders; land, sea and air. Self-isolation though difficult is a necessity in these times.
Coronavirus is real and devastating, let us stay home and stay alive. This too shall pass!
What has been written here of the COVID-19 pandemic is put forward only as of the writer's view at the present time. When the dust settles and all the facts are brought together some of the ideas which are held today may require modification. We are still too close to the event to fully measure it.
By Solomon Nana Kwame Ansong @2020
The writer is an educationist with a Biochemistry background, who has an interest in educational and social issues.
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."