By Abdul Samed Zurak

Following the debrief session with Dr. David Nabarro, I would like to deliver my insights based on the thematic areas of the debrief session. The thematic areas will be relative to the interventions of lower-middle-income countries such as Ghana. Ghana is one of the leading countries in coronavirus testing through the Enhanced Contact Tracing & Testing program by the Ghana Health Service. As of today, 14th May 2020, the coronavirus cases in Ghana are 5,408 confirmed cases, 514 recoveries, and 24 deaths. During the debrief session, Dr. David Nabarro listed Massive Risks, Vital Steps, False Choices, Inequities Revealed, and Real Opportunity as the thematic areas and I will be discussing my insights on the thematic areas with Ghana as an example.

Massive Risks

In Ghana, coronavirus has posed a massive risk to individuals who lack access to healthcare. During the discussion, Dr. David Nabarro indicated coronavirus is stealthy and risky. However, in our setting in a lower-middle-income country in Ghana, the risk is higher due to the lack of access to healthcare, poor living conditions, and poverty. Other communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS are at risk of rising as the health systems are focused on tackling the disease. Also, coronavirus patients with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma are at a higher risk of death from the disease.

Vital Steps

During the early days of the disease in Ghana, the Government imposed a 3-week lockdown to keep infection levels down and interrupt transmission of the virus. The Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service launched the Enhanced Contact Tracing & Testing program to trace, test, isolate, and treat the virus. The initiative has proven to be very reliable. The government also absorbed utility bills for 3 months and provide other incentives to the citizenry to reduce financial burdens during the pandemic. The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology in collaboration with Incas Diagnostics developed a rapid test kit that detects coronavirus antibodies within 20 minutes. Ghana is also using drones through Zipline to transport samples to testing centers across the country.

False Choices

For a country like Ghana, decision making between Public Health and the Economy and Surveillance and Liberty were critical and vital. Initially, the decisions were “Public Health versus Economy” and “Surveillance versus Liberty”. These decisions were in place during the 3-week lockdown by the government and it is evident in the statement of the President of Ghana where he stated: “We know how to bring the economy back to life but what we do not know is how to bring people back to life”. However, the government had to succumb to the pressure and use a non-binary approach where the current situation is “Public Health and Economy” and “Surveillance and liberty”.

Inequities Revealed

The coronavirus has revealed inequities in different aspects of our lives. It is very worrying for people living in inner cities, densely populated areas, and prisons. In Ghana, the government is using the Enhanced Contact Tracing and Testing initiative to trace, test, isolate, and treat people living in appalling conditions. Also, there have been calls by the minority and opposition to decongest prisons in the country. Frontline workers are declining to step forward without adequate protective equipment and recently in the Presidential update, it was revealed 533 employees of a fish processing plant were infected with the virus.

Real Opportunity

In Ghana, the pandemic has created a huge opportunity as the government is investing heavily in the Health System. The government has stepped effort to improve access to healthcare by unveiling plans to construct 88 district hospitals and 6 regional hospitals within a year. There are several incentives for frontline workers including a 50% increment in salary, tax holidays and free transport. Young leaders have stepped up effort in the fight against the virus through education, awareness programs, and donations. Also, this pandemic has presented a unique opportunity for the use of technology in different aspects of the Ghanaian economy including education. I am very much intrigued by the suggestions of Dr. David Nabarro concerning education. I believe it is a great opportunity for the government to start engaging parents on ways to reopen the education system. Already, Ghana is practicing the shifting system up to the secondary level of education. Stakeholder engagement has to be made to discuss ways to reopen the education system during the pandemic.

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This article is a reflection by Abdul Samed Zurak following the COVID-19 Open Online Briefing of Dr David Nabarro on 15 May 2020 as part of a collaboration between 4SD and One Young World to inspire greater systems leadership amongst youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abdul is the Chairman of the Board of Zurak Cancer Foundation; a non-governmental organization working on improving access to oncology healthcare service at the primary point of healthcare in the slum, rural and hard to reach communities in Ghana. He has served on government panels and committees to develop policies regarding oncology healthcare delivery in Ghana.

He is a Johnson & Johnson Fellow, a British Council Active Citizen Leadership Fellow, Obama Leader, a Goalkeeper with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and One Young World Ambassador.

COVID-19 Open Online Briefing #16
Thursday, 15 May 2020
08:30 – 09:30 CEST

The views and opinions expressed in these reflections form part of the collaboration between 4SD and One Young World to inspire greater systems leadership amongst youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 4SD as an organisation or it’s associated personnel. Any content provided by authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.

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