COVID-19: Developmental lessons

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The year 2020 is a year most of us looked forward to with a lot of enthusiasm. Apart from it being a leap-year, it is also unique just like the years 1717, 1818, and 1919 which none of us experienced. It has an exceptional pattern. The first two digits of the year match the last two digits. Obviously, being alive during such a time is a rare opportunity because that is the only year this generation is likely to ever experience such a pattern. The next year that follows this pattern is 2121 and, needless to say, most of us if not all will not be around by then.

Background to COVID-19 pandemic

On 31st December 2019, just before we bid farewell to the year and welcomed the much anticipated ‘special’ year 2020, news broke from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in China about a cluster of pneumonia cases with a commonly reported link to Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market. On the 9th of January 2020, the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (briefly, China CDC) reported that a novel coronavirus (later named SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19) had been detected as the causative agent for some of the cases.

By 20th January there were reports of confirmed cases in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea. Europe (France) and Sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria) had their first reported cases on 24th January and 25th February, respectively. And on the 12th of March, Ghanaians woke up to the sad news of the deadly coronavirus finding its way into the country with two reported cases involving two travellers who had returned to the country from Norway and Turkey. As of 20th of April, the number of reported cases globally stood at 2,447,970 with 168,500 deaths. At the time of writing this article, the total number of confirmed cases in Ghana stood at 1,042 with 99 recoveries and 9 deaths, according to the Ghana Health Service.

There is no doubt that we all live in very challenging times, and we are experiencing some sort of paradigm shift in our daily routines as a result of the pandemic. For most of us, COVID-19 pandemic is a tragic occurrence we have never experienced throughout our lives. Unfortunately, it is here with us and we have no other option than to brace ourselves to deal with it in order to get things back to normal. My heart goes out to the many families around the world and within our country who have lost loved ones or have bedridden relatives as a result of this pandemic.

Difficult as the times may be, this COVID-19 pandemic has valuable developmental lessons for Ghana and the citizenry. As Idowu Koyenikan, an internationally acclaimed organisational consultant and author, aptly puts it: “There are certain life lessons that you can only learn in the struggle.” This article is intended to provide the government with a perspective on the evolving situation and developmental lessons for the nation.

As part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a couple of weeks after recording its first case it imposed a partial lockdown on three cities (Accra, Tema, and Kumasi) identified as hotspots for the spread of the virus. When rumours of the proposed lockdown went viral, many Ghanaians expressed their worries by using various social media platforms. Truth be told, most of those concerns were very legitimate because these are fundamental societal problems that the nation has left unattended for years. Quite embarrassingly to say the least, as nature will have it, the pandemic is exposing these pitfalls in the country.

Below are some of the developmental lessons Ghana can learn from this period:

  • Issue of toilet facilities

One of the worries of many citizens, when the lockdown was anticipated, had to do with the many Ghanaians who do not have toilet facilities in their homes and have to commute to public places of convenience. It is heart-breaking to know that in this day and age there is still a considerable number of homes without toilet facilities. It brings to question what government has been doing about this for ages.

One may argue that it is not the responsibility of the government to provide toilet facilities for private houses, but the government has the power to enforce all laws compelling landlords/ladies to provide toilet facilities in houses. Where landlords/ladies do not have the capacity to provide toilet facilities in old houses, the government can equally support such households because such assistance will go a long way to save the nation from disease outbreaks such as cholera.                                                                                                                 If the government does not see the need to do this, it comes back to impede the smooth implementation of policies like lockdown which are necessary to curtail the spread of deadly viruses like COVID-19.

It is therefore recommended that post the COVID-19 era, the government should either enforce regulations requiring every household to have toilet facilities or provide support to help address this issue as soon as possible.

  • Issue of potable Water

According to UNICEF, notwithstanding the significant improvement in access to water in Ghana, one out of every ten persons spends more than 30 minutes to access an improved source of drinking water. And 11 percent of the population still drink from the surface and other unsafe water sources. It is common knowledge that in Ghana, most homes do not have potable drinking water running through their taps, and for that matter, they rely on water tankers for a constant supply of water. In most cases, the source of the water is unknown to the buyers. We keep arguing about the accessibility of water in the country; but as we all know, if every household had access to potable water the issue of correct water supply coverage would not come up for discussion.

As we are aware by now, one of the safety precautions recommended during this season is regularly washing hands with soap under running water. Though this phrase has flooded our media space, its implementation is almost impossible because most houses do not have running water but rely on water supplied by water tankers.

Owing to the high cost of buying water from water tankers, many people are prudent in their use of water. As much as many are conversant with handwashing as a precaution, it is a mere slogan chorused every day with little to no implementation.

Evidently, COVID-19 has also exposed the need for our nation to pay attention to the perennial water problem facing the citizens in a country where water, a necessity, has become a preserve for the affluent. We can deceive ourselves by thinking people are washing their hands regularly and properly, but the sad truth is most Ghanaians cannot afford to do so. Therefore, the issue of potable drinking water is one that requires urgent attention from government. In the post-COVID-19 era, steps must be taken to address this issue with utmost urgency.

  • Issues of medical and research centres

With astonishment, the world has witnessed how the COVID-19 pandemic, has overwhelmed the medical facilities of very advanced countries like the US, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, and China. It has compelled some of them to put up medical structures within a short period in order to contain the situation.

As I watched how these countries with existing sophisticated medical facilities and resources could not handle this deadly virus, it gave me cause to worry about Ghana which currently does not have enough medical facilities to handle normal infections and diseases. How would the already deficient health system contain such a contagious or infectious virus should the situation worsen? Currently, pregnant mothers still have challenges in accessing quality maternal care in some regions, even in major cities.

For a population of over 30 million people, only two testing centres – Noguchi Medical Research Institute and the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research – are serving us. Much as we do not anticipate testing the entire population, we do not want a situation wherein we will be overwhelmed by the inability to test suspected cases if the numbers do go up. This will be a disincentive in the campaign to test, trace and treat as widely as suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a bid to contain the pandemic.

Unfortunately, this time around no country can come to our aid since they are dealing with the same issue. In the past, blood samples were sent to South Africa and other parts of the world for testing and results sent back home; but in the case of a global pandemic like COVID-19, the better the medical facilities and research centres the safer your citizens. This brings to the fore the need for drastic improvements in our medical facilities as well as research laboratories and centres to handle such medical emergencies. A continent heavily reliant on foreign aid must exploit ways of self-sufficiency this time around. I therefore recommend that government put a plan in place to establish at least one state-of-the-art medical and research centre in each region to handle future emergencies.

  • Issue of database and house addressing system

Data, as we know, is the new lifeblood of the world; and it comes in handy at every phase of human endeavours. As seen in parts of the world during the pandemic period, nations have put in place stimulus packages for businesses and individuals. For most advanced countries this is not a big hurdle as the state has adequate data about most people and businesses, if not all. In the comfort of their homes, individuals have their bank accounts credited with government relief funds to support them.

But, unfortunately, in Ghana every attempt to establish a proper database of the people in the country is reduced to political discussion which renders it unsuccessful. This has made it difficult for the nation to have proper records of the people within the country. This same antagonism characterised the housing address system which was a very brilliant idea; but because it was met with fierce opposition even after its introduction, much cannot be said about it.

We tend to be our own enemies, because if such ideas were promoted and successfully implemented, it would have been easy for contact-tracing. And when government wants to give relief items, it will know which people are greatly affected by the pandemic as well as where they live – and would have made it easier to support the vulnerable in society.

With a proper housing address system and good employment records, the current problems we are facing with the distribution of relief items would have been avoided. Against this backdrop, the issue of getting a proper database of people in the country cannot be overemphasised, so the government should note it as a priority after the pandemic.

  • Issue of support for local/private sector businesses

The COVID-19 has further underscored the need for local businesses to be built and promoted. In most countries, the US and UK also, governments have called on private companies to support the government in handling the COVID-19 virus situation by diverting their production facilities into the manufacturing of PPEs, ventilators, and other supplies needed to curb the pandemic.

In Ghana, the private sector has equally supported government in devising ways to support – from cash donations, the supply of relief items to the poor, and needy in the country to responding to government’s call for collaboration. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Ghana cedis donations made, the private sector is building a 100-bed infectious disease isolation and treatment facility at Kwabenya, for which government on 17th April cut the sod for construction to start.

Several local companies that hitherto were not into manufacturing medical supplies have ventured into the production of PPEs, hand-sanitisers, and other supplies needed during this difficult time. For instance, Kasapreko Company limited – one of the indigenous alcoholic drinks producing companies – following government’s call halted its production of alcohol and started producing hand-sanitisers for the local market, which is highly commendable.

This is a clear indication that most of the items we import as a nation, which adversely affect our balance of trade and our foreign exchange reserves, can be produced within the country. This pandemic has made obvious the importance of having resilient and well-established local industries; because when push comes to shove they are the ones that can rescue our nations, not foreign ones.

Additionally, since the pandemic hit Ghana, social media has been awash with a number of Ghanaian artisans displaying various equipment and devices they have innovatively created – ranging from solar power handwash basins and Veronica buckets designed specially to handle the pandemic, etc. It goes to confirm the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention”. This has shown us that if we give our artisans the support they need the nation can reap immensely from their ingenuity in the near-future.

It is therefore recommended that after this pandemic government should take drastic steps to establish and support local industries by providing them with enabling environment such as tax holidays, low interest rates, and other incentives which can help them compete well with foreign suppliers. In addition, we need to promote the patronage of local products by imposing restrictions on the importation of items which can be produced here.

Regarding the promotion of innovation and creativity, the government can establish a ‘Centre for Innovation and Creative Ideas (CICI)’ – where individuals with innovative ideas can approach and receive support. Such innovators should be commended at the national level so as to serve as an incentive for others to do the same.

In conclusion, much as this pandemic has imposed restrictions on us and is negatively impacting our lives, I strongly believe it can be a springboard from which Ghana and Africa as a whole can leverage to realise their full potential and move from overdependence to self-dependence, and from penury into prosperity. Like the old English adage goes “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers” – indeed, a period of discomfort can provide the basis for a period of happiness and joy.

God bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong.

The writer is a financial Consultant, Sterling Professional Consult

Mobile: +233244169164.

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