The National Democratic Congress (NDC) has urged Government to take bold steps now, including a phased lockdown and a rapid deployment of funds, to give Ghana a fighting chance against the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the party, the only realistic window of opportunity available to Ghana to put in an effective mechanism to control the spread of the viral disease should be measured in days rather than weeks, as we race against time.
The party’s concerns, expressed by members of its 13-member Covid-19 Technical Team to offer its expertise to government and allied agencies in the fight against the deadly pandemic, made the suggestion and several others at a press encounter in Accra, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Said Cassiel Ato Forson, MP for Ajumako-Enyan-Esiam and former Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning: “But these or any other proposals will require the rapid deployment of funds to procure needed equipment and supplies; improve awareness and accelerate our readiness; reinforce the healthcare system; establish a morally sound safety net for the vulnerable; and safeguard our economy & enterprises against the inevitable shocks. We must be able to use those funds in response to the evolving situation in the interest of the nation, which requires us to also have great flexibility to reassess and reprioritize over the coming weeks.”
The NDC Team appealed to Government “to amend the proposed utilization of the $3 billion Eurobond proceeds to make funds available to cater for COVID-19 related expenses and the possible adverse economic shocks that may occur,” saying Ghana cannot afford the waiting time for government’s entreaties to the IMF and World Bank for $1 billion to materialize.
“We harbour sincere reservations about the wisdom of that course under the time pressures we face. We are reliably informed - and the government is aware - that any such facility would not be available to us until the second or third week of April. That timeline is constrained by the meeting schedule of the boards of the respective organisations and the processes involved in receiving the funds even under emergency approval. Our current state of readiness and the exponential growth of the plague we are fighting suggests that we cannot wait that long. It is with this in mind that my colleagues and I wish to propose an alternative strategy that would avail Ghana immediately of the needed resources to drastically escalate our readiness and resilience.”
A public health expert and Professor of Global Surgery, Dr. Grace Ayensu-Danquah, also a member of the team, stressed the importance of effective information dissemination to crisis management, and urged government not to withhold information from the public but to deal with the public factually.
“This is not about fear mongering or heightening anxiety. Rather, it is about experts in the field and not political actors providing accurate information for the public to understand what is happening so they can respond to advice and measures taken by authorities.”
She said a key preventive measure in combating the Covid-19 is contact tracing, which she said works better in an environment where the public has full disclosure of the movements of infected persons.
“The timeliness and accuracy of information put out by government and regulatory agencies is therefore imperative. Conflicting information breeds confusion and mistrust, which increases the vulnerability of the public to fake news and fake cures”, she said.
Need to know
According to Dr. Grace Ayensu-Danquah, a number of questions beg for urgent answers to which government needed to respond.
How many people are on self-quarantine
How far have we come in securing test kits and supplies
How many Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) have we and how far we have come in procuring more PPE
The number of medical staff who have been trained and at what specific level to manage the pandemic
Accurate information on how many more medical staff are left to be trained and what specific training are they currently receiving
The role of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies as part of the public tracing agencies
The role of the NCCE in this fight
What specific logistics and resources the NCCE has received from government to help them do better and quicker public education
The role of NADMO as the emergency relief organization and how government is liaising with them and resourcing them and how that assistance is manifested at the local level
The role of the security agencies
How many quarantine centres we have nationwide, where they are located and their capacity.
Number of isolation centres nationwide, their location and capacity. What personnel are staffing the centres and what clinical services we have available at those facilities.
For Dr. Zanetor Rawlings, MP for Klottey Korle and a medical doctor, who spoke on community impact and mitigation strategies and said interventions to decrease the rate of transmission are essential to ensure that we do not collapse our healthcare system by exceeding their capacity to cope.
She emphasised effective hand-washing, social distancing, general testing of the population and travel bans as some of these interventions.
She said however that the main preventative measures against the spread of the virus such as hand-washing and social distancing are very difficult to adhere to given our densely populated communities, markets and public spaces, and the intermittent access to or in some cases lack of access to water.
“The successful end to this crisis will require the involvement of the government in engaging the citizenry including civil society to support efforts within communities. There must be community ownership in organizing and executing the response interventions in order to break the cycle of transmission and infection through sustained behavior modification at all levels.”
Dr. Zanetor called on the various assemblies to, “as a matter of urgency, provide Veronica buckets, soap and disinfectants for the markets to reduce their risk of exposure and risk of transmission of the virus”, adding that “This must be coupled with a serious education drive by the NCCE and Health Directorates at the district level. Indeed, if there was ever a time to put the DISEC and REGSEC to use, this is it! These must work closely with the communities to identify and report cases, in order to test and undertake rapid contact tracing and quarantine measures.”
Speaking on public health management, another member of the team, Dr. Jonas Asamoah, described as a public health expert, said a robust system-wide response from all stakeholders in public health is the central component of a comprehensive national response plan.
“Our system, in its present condition, is overstretched and under-resourced to deal with the surge in healthcare needs that would accompany an exponential increase in cases. We are in a desperate race against the clock to ensure that the critical actors in the system are provided with the resource, equipment and training to stand up to what the days and weeks ahead will bring their way. And we must be clear in our minds about what this means in practical terms for our healthcare providers and their patients. We must face up to some hard facts about our own situation here in Ghana.”
He said comparatively, for the first eight days of the disease progression in Ghana, Germany, Italy, and USA, Ghana has had the highest for day 8, which is 21 infected cases.
“According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of spread starts to increase exponentially from this point. They estimated that 1 person can infect about 10,000 people within a week along the progressive chain. “
Dr. Asamoah said the strategy to contain the spread of the virus should include rigorous and rapid testing. He said the team understood the current challenges in procuring the necessary test kits - given the high demand for them.
“However, the evidence is quite clear that 50,000 test kits is simply not enough for a nation of approximately 30 million people.
“The current strategy for testing is structured around a case definition approach that limits tests to individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19. But it ignores the fact that many infected persons can be asymptomatic carriers. Limiting tests to clinical cases only, rather than mass testing, creates the situation where infected individuals who do not feel sick or show symptoms remain untested, unidentified and untraced. The inherent risks of limiting testing in that way are great and obvious, especially if social distancing is not properly observed. The solution to this is mass testing, wide availability of test locations and rapid communication of results. And, again, 50,000 test kits simply will not suffice for this purpose. We recommend, given this limitation, for the government to focus those kits to tracing and testing contacts. But they must be quick, as time is not on our side.”
He said per our situation, an eventual lockdown as prescribed by the WHO for controlling the spread and hence reducing the incidence rate would be critical.
Strategies and protocols for lockdown:
Should be done in phases, say weekly measures to be put in place
Equipping the health front by focusing on community empowerment where health professionals do home visits by checking vitals of people to help identify new cases and manage them within the community
Speedy emergency clearing of items at the ports
Provision of minimum wage in place to enable people afford basic necessities without feeling the urge to move out to look for their daily bread
Making food and consumables accessible to people say door to door marketing Restricting vehicular movement.
Chairman of the Committee and former Chief of staff, Mr. Prosper Bani, said far from seeking to score political points, the NDC deems the fight against the pandemic as a national one and that it would amount to irresponsibility for the largest opposition party to remain mute in times like when duty calls.