The fight against coronavirus has proven to be a high hurdle as countries struggle to contain the global scourge. In Ghana, the figures keep soaring as government tries all means to arrest the fast-paced virus. As of 24th April 2020, there were 1,279 confirmed cases with 10 deaths in the country according to data from the Ghana Health Service.
The enormity of the challenge posed by the pandemic has led to governments across the globe introducing some radical measures in their bid to achieve dramatic results. Some of these measures have completely altered our way of life, introducing new normative lifestyles and heightening our alertness to hygiene – given that the virus spreads through openings such as the nose, eyes and mouth, good personal hygiene is highly recommended together with other preventive measures to limit the spread.
The hygiene culture and economic strength of African countries has led many to predict a much harder and devastating effect of the pandemic on the continent. Considering the ruinous impact malaria has had on Africans due to poor and negative attitudes toward hygiene, the above prediction cannot be faulted. In 16 of the 54 countries in Africa, sanitation coverage is less than 25 percent. Such is the nature of risk African nations may be facing during this time of a global pandemic that thrives under unhygienic conditions.
A country like Sweden is said to be making headway in controlling the spread due to its hygiene culture, among other preventive measures.
In 2017, David Duncan the Chief of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), UNICEF, declared Ghana as the lowest ranked in sanitation levels among all lower- and middle-income countries. The designation of Ghana as the lowest ranked in sanitation becomes more comprehensible when one examines its sanitation coverage. In Ghana, only 15% of the population have access to good sanitation, with only 1 out of 5 people practicing handwashing in the country.
The sanitation situation of the country becomes grimmer when one narrows down to more deprived communities like the slums. Ghana recorded its first case of the virus on 12th March 2020. Since then, government has implemented various measures to hinder spread of the virus in the country. On 15th March 2020, the president announced in his second COVID-19 update the implementation of measures which included a ban on all social gathering, the closure of educational institutions among others.
These measures were later followed by a partial lockdown that was introduced on Monday 30th March. The lockdown imposed restrictions on movements of persons in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area, Greater Kumasi Metropolis, Tema Metropolis and the Kasoa area for a period of three weeks, which was brought to a halt on 19th of April 2020.
The lockdown’s lifting has generated criticism among sections of Ghanaians, with some citing political expediency and others attributing it to the fear of ‘positive’ defiance by some citizens as the lockdown brought untold hardships. These allegations and others have been denied by the Minister of Information, Mr. Kojo Oppong Nkrumah. He claims the decision to lift the lockdown was based on data and science.
As a researcher, I humbly ask: “Did the scientific considerations also consider impacts of the ongoing education with respect to personal hygiene and other preventive measures being undertaken by various stakeholders on attitudinal change among Ghanaians?” The decision to lift the lockdown should not only be a matter of biology but also a matter of psychology and sociology. Perhaps some data on attitudinal change would have provided some comfort to the critics that there has been a new hygiene culture established among Ghanaians, which is much needed to slow down the spread.
Most Ghanaians were/are gradually internalising and imbibing the values of personal hygiene, which was further being reinforced by the lockdown. The lockdown’s suspension may have been abrupt and thus inadequate for a proper inoculation of Ghanaians’ attitude toward personal hygiene and social distancing, as a much longer period may be suited to properly inoculating the general public’s attitude toward personal hygiene among others.
The jubilation that greeted announcement of the lockdown’s lifting in some communities was no different from that which happens during the Homowo (hooting at hunger) festival of the Gas. Perhaps lifting the lockdown signalled the end to COVID-19, which called for a hoot at the virus.
In other communities it was akin to the celebration of the Aboakyer (Arresting the beast) festival. Perhaps it signalled to them that the virus has been captured and they were thus free to ‘dirty’ themselves. Indeed, all the protocols to be observed during this period of pandemic, including the hygiene protocols, were broken on the day of the suspension. At the market places, attitudes have not changed markedly: waste is being disposed of indiscriminately and the ‘hustlers’ are still living their lives recklessly without recourse to the hygiene protocols. Perhaps the fighting instinct of man in the face of adversity is playing a dominant role as opposed to the fleeing. Is it the case of inoculation vaccines failing or the dose not being properly administered?
COVID-19 presents a good opportunity for a nationwide scheme aimed at inoculating the public against unsanitary care and promoting personal hygiene. This may be the right time to revisit the topic of sanitation with different perspectives – in this case with focus on applying psychological principles to immunise the Ghanaian citizen against current and future threats.
A quick examination of Ghanaians’ behaviour toward sanitation prior to the pandemic and the nature of ongoing education during this period will provide little to argue otherwise. The average Ghanaian is not well-equipped to resist risky behaviour or disinformation, and therefore needs a longer period of education and experience to be inoculated. COVID-19 provides that environment for the education and experience – which are the needed vaccines for inoculation against insanitary conditions and the promotion of personal hygiene.
Attitude inoculation has been likened to how antibodies work by developing biological resistant processes within an individual, thereby strengthening the immune system. It helps one to develop a persuasion resistance, thereby strengthening a person’s attitude and belief by immunising the person against any future argument capable of altering their tendency toward exhibiting unwanted behaviour in the future.
This mechanism is a very strong tool, which has been utilised in protecting against substance abuse and teenage pregnancy. There is evidence that indicates sizable correlations exist between attitude and behaviour. It has been found that when factors such as internal consistency of the attitude, the temporal stability of the attitude, and the certainty with which the attitude was held are present, they tend to impact behaviour. This shows that a prolonged, consistent and continuous education and environment is needed to help in the assimilation, identification, inculcation and subsequent inoculation of attitudes to engender the right behaviours.
A well-planned and executed inoculation exercise during this period could enable the Ghanaian populace to develop a stable attitude and high degree of consistency with their behaviours. Thus, a great degree of confidence can be established on the citizenry’s ability to protect themselves through the systems, structures, policies and, above all, knowledge provided during this period of COVID-19 to generate an enduring attitude capable of fighting against insanitary conditions and promoting personal hygiene.
The hygiene protocols associated with COVID-19 need be sustained even after exit of the Pandemic, to fortify the country against other infections emanating from insanitary conditions and poor personal hygiene. In a country where a whopping amount of US$290million gets spent annually on sanitation, government is encouraged to seize this opportunity presented by the global pandemic to put in place systems, structures and policies to ensure a fundamental rethinking among the citizenry in respect of personal hygiene and improved sanitary care.
Similarly, there should be a radical redesign of processes and practices that will ensure a more enduring and dramatic improvement in the hygiene and sanitary-related attitudes of the citizens.
Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Organisational Development, an applied psychologist and the Head, Department of Organisation &HRM, University of Ghana Business School. E: [email protected]. T: +233(0)546238672