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03.05.2020 Article

COVID-19: My Day As A Youth Leader For Health In A Ghanaian Community

By Jennifer El-Duah
COVID-19: My Day As A Youth Leader For Health In A Ghanaian Community
LISTEN MAY 3, 2020

My name is Jennifer El-Duah. I'm a Youth Leader for Health and currently working as a Lab scientist. My journey over the last six months has given me remarkable experience on how advocacy can change in the arena of a public health threat.

I live in the Bono Region of Ghana in the Sunyani Municipality. It is 4:50 am and already the distinct Muslim call to prayer can be heard in the distance. And so every day begins. Usually, the rest of the day simply unravels from there. A quiet prayer, making a list of all the things that need to be done that day, grooming and then you're out the door, heading to work. Also, one cannot resist the temptation to read news updates from the various outlets. “COVID-19 cases rise”, “Global death toll up”, “Patients tested positive on the run”, “Health workers need PPEs”. This is more than enough to raise anxiety and cause some despair.

All community conversations now dwell on COVID-19. We know from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that a sudden increased demand on fragile health systems can lead to substantial increases in morbidity and mortality from other diseases, including malaria. Now with community spread in Ghana and the similarities between symptoms of COVID-19 and malaria, are people comfortable enough to report to the hospital when ill?

These days, I am inclined to stay in bed for just a few more minutes, dreading the thought of having to ride in a taxi to work. What if someone coughs and doesn't cover their mouth? What if I touch the very surface that an infected person touched? Who ensures that people wear their masks? Are masks really preventive? There is also the mental effort for me to remember not to touch my face.

My region, Bono region, is one of the few which have not recorded any case of COVID-19. However, this is not something one must be happy about. Complacency is simply a recipe for disaster. As if a disaster is not already happening. Despite the ban on school, church and public or social gatherings, you still find people chatting and laughing away. We have a long way to go.

After a very uncomfortable taxi cab ride to work, I am faced with yet another hurdle, getting through work while observing all safety protocols. Truth is, I love what I do. I walk toward the entrance to work, nodding cheerily to colleagues and careful to stand a safe distance from anyone I stop to chat with. Ordinarily, a hardy handshake would suffice. Then when I make it to the entrance and onward to my department, my workday finally begins. “Jennifer, don't forget to wear your nose mask” my supervisor usually says. This is a welcome reminder, not that I need it. With my mask firmly fixed on and in my protective apparel, I start to work. While concentrating on what I am doing, I must not rub that itch in my eye. It takes a second for the itch to crop up and another second for the involuntary response to rub. That's a mental battle. Did I forget to mention washing my hands at least 10 times while at work?

All-day I think of how to advocate for improved health under these conditions. Can I talk about malaria as well as COVID-19 at the same time? Will people listen?

Finally, it's 5pm, and I clock out. A girl must eat. I make another taxi trip to the market so I can restock my supplies. A thought comes to my mind. As wonderful as it is to see so many handwashing stations around, what happens when everyone has to turn the tap with their hands? Are people taught the right way to wash their hands? We must be careful not to turn these stations into coronavirus breeding centres.

Then I find out the price of lime and ginger has shot up. Madam market woman, why? “Lime and ginger mix is very good for fighting coronavirus so people are really buying. They are in high demand”. The less said about that, the better. The price of tissue paper has also shot up simply because there are hand washing stations everywhere and people need to dry their hands. The good thing is that those market vendors are spread apart. You have to walk long distances to get what you want, but it's worth it.

I get home exhausted, wash my hands and get to cooking and preparing for the next day. A small voice in my head keeps repeating “these are not ordinary times.” I am usually glad when I am at home. That is where I feel safe and gather my thoughts to face the next day. I cherish the days that I don't have to go to work. I relish staying indoors and trying some new recipes or reading a few chapters of a good book.

We risk losing the art of socializing. Our culture is based on gathering, touching, embracing, consoling and sharing. Will all that go away? I look forward to the day when wearing masks is not routine and you can give one another a warm hug. I cannot wait for the day we can congregate once again at a place of worship, or attend a flamboyant wedding. Indeed, COVID-19 has even affected the way I dress! I no longer wear watches or bracelets. They get in the way of handwashing.

I also look forward to when I can speak up for better strategies against malaria when I am certain that I have the attention of my audience. Undeniably, the coronavirus has affected everyone's life.

It laughs in the face of social inequality. This is a fight for all races and gender. “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself” Henry Ford. Certainly, there is great wisdom in this.

Thank you to Dr. Sylvia Anie for her mentorship and encouraging me to do this.

By: Jennifer El-Duah

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