There comes a time in life when not by will or choice, you find yourself in a circumstance you never imagined or wished. The coronavirus pandemic which is still sweeping the earth over has placed our country in such a conundrum. There are certain lessons in life that are experiential; it can only be learnt in the struggle, and difficult as the period we are in may be, it has nonetheless stirred up some creative ingenuity in Ghanaians.
We have seen a number of indigenous inventions by Ghanaians to help fight the virus. Few examples are; the solar-powered hand washing machine by Jude Osei from Kumasi. His amazing invention is automated to dispense soap and water through a tap for washing of hands. Another is the electronic hands-free tap developed by Kelvin Owusu Dapaah and Richard Boateng, both students of Obuasi Senior High and Technical School. Their invention also allows water to automatically flow for washing of hands.
Even industries that solely produced alcoholic beverages have joined in the bandwagon of sanitizer production.
All these inventions were manufactured amid the coronavirus pandemic as part of effort to ward of the spread of the virus. Necessity indeed is the mother of all inventions and the coronavirus plaguing many nations is evidence of this paradigm. It has reminded us that, with belief in our own and support from society and government, we can also invent. This should however not end with the ending of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On other hand, the pandemic has made us aware of some deep-seated social issues that we pretended not to be aware of. It has been devastating as well as revealing. Though the crisis has not reached epic proportions in Ghana, the cracks in our society exposed by this coronavirus pandemic is worthy of our maximum attention.
There have been discussions on how community spread of coronavirus will stretch our already ‘poor’ health system, how ‘hunger virus’ because of lockdown will kill more people than the coronavirus itself and others who will have no place to sleep as the cities are cleared because of lockdown. There have also been talks on the effectiveness of social distancing in communities with only one toilet facility as most houses in these communities are without toilet facility.
It is fair to ask whether the issues we are facing because of the coronavirus pandemic been entirely absent. They say it is only a ‘fool’ who does not learn from his experiences. And like the proverbial crow if we keep postponing the building of our nest, sooner or later the rains will come and reality will catch up with us.
The Vice-President of Ghana, His Excellency Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia said in 2014 (then vice-presidential candidate) that “if the fundamentals are weak, the exchange rate will expose you”, to borrow from his statement, I also say that “if your social structure and health care system is weak, the coronavirus pandemic will expose you.”
One wise man said, “circumstances does not make a man, it only reveals him to himself, whatever you are is deeply manifested in circumstances.’ All that circumstance present to you will only expose what you are made of. The coronavirus pandemic has shown among other things how ‘poor’ and unready our health care system is for a serious outbreak.
The pandemic has revealed to us our ‘weak’ health care system which has been neglected over years by successive governments, it has revealed to us our infrastructural deficit and how the poor in society has been left to live on the margins of our society, but now that lockdown is a necessity, we are afraid hunger might kill them more than the virus we are protecting them from.
Coronavirus did not make our health system weak, neither did it make our people poor or jobless; it did not make people homeless who have to rest their aching bodies after hard day’s toil in sheds of stations and under bridges. It has rather called our attention not only to the fact that whatever systems you fail to build will also fail to support you but also if you keep ignoring the poor and vulnerable in society, a day will come when you cannot neglect them anymore.
Those in the position did nothing as building regulations were flouted; houses were built without toilet facilities. Our politicians thought they could promise and not deliver when voted into power. If our housing deficit was dealt with by successive governments, if our health care facilities were adequately resourced, if hostels were built for head porters as promised and if the youth were given job opportunities with good salaries to help them save for future mishaps, we would have sung a different song than we are singing now.
For years, our health care professionals have been complaining of resources and PPE’s to enable them deliver their duties. We clearly did not need a coronavirus pandemic to know the gaps in our health system. Instead of doing something about it, politicians endorse the weakness of our health care system by running to other countries when they are down with sickness. We have health care professionals who are already straining to manage other health issues like maternal mortality, TB, cholera, malaria, CSM etc. It is not that we are going to halt treatment of all sicknesses and dedicate all health care facilities and professionals to fighting coronavirus; we have to deal with coronavirus not neglecting the rest.
We prioritise discussing the building of a new parliamentary chamber to providing adequate resources in our health facilities. The total ventilators in our public health care facilities are only 67. We only thank God the virus has not reached epic proportions as in Europe and America where those with over 15,000 ventilators are even struggling. These are the people we usually run to in desperate times for cosmetic reliefs, yet they are themselves struggling.
Coronavirus has exposed our flippant attitude towards science and medical research; we have only two research facilities to test the virus (Noguchi Medical Research Institute and Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research). The testing capacity of these two centres is about 1500 a day. Imagine what will happen if we start recording 10,000 infections in a day like some countries in Europe. A very meagre percentage of our budget goes into scientific research, no wonder our fate lies in the ability of other countries to come out with a vaccine. Didn’t we know as a country with a population of over 30 million, we needed more than two of such facilities?
Access to potable water in most communities is a challenge, yet we are admonished to wash our hands regularly. COVID-19 has evidently exposed the need for our leaders to pay attention to the perennial water problem citizens face. Most people do not even have access to portable drinking water to even talk of washing their hands. We only deceive ourselves to think that washing of hands is being done effectively because those doing the commercials are the affluent who can easily afford buying water.
Now we have to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea; it is either we remove restrictions which can lead to spike in infections which will probably result in deaths because our already ‘poor’ health system cannot support such situation or we impose lockdown, in which case a lot of people will also die of ‘hunger virus.’
Let us humbly embrace this reality check COVID-19 pandemic has given us, reminding us of the weak systems we have covered all these years. The cumulative failures of successive governments and our collective irresponsibility as a nation are stirring us in the face. The apathetic indifference of those in authority towards the majority living on the margins of society has been made bare, the government now has to spend millions of Ghana Cedis to provide food and relief items to the poor because they have no option.
There is no better time to rebuild and re-right the wrongs of yesteryear than now. We have experienced everything first hand and we know the reality on the ground; we cannot turn a deaf ear nor a blind eye to it. Let us act on the lessons given by the COVID-19 pandemic so that should there be a similar situation, we will not be singing the same song.
By Solomon Nana Kwame Ansong @2020
The writer is an educationist with Biochemistry background, who has an interest in educational and social issues.