SayItRight writes: Mr Corona is here, where are we?

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Three African countries, Egypt, Algeria and our next door neighbour and brothers Nigeria, have recorded cases of the deadly Covid-19 virus, otherwise known as the coronavirus.

The disease, which many thought was a Chinese sickness when it started in Wuhan, China, on December 1 2019, has now been declared a global health emergency.

From Wuhan, about 87,586 infections have now been confirmed, with about 2989 reported deaths worldwide as at March 1 2020.

Interestingly, it is now reported to be in 57 countries, and keeps spreading at an Usain Bolt speed.

About the Virus

Coronaviruses (CoV), according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.  Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

Signs of infection

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.

Africa and Ghana

Until last week, no cases had been reported from countries in, especially, sub-Saharan Africa. However, that changed when an Italian travelled to Nigeria from Milan, Italy (the epicentre of the outbreak there) and was found to be positive for a COVID-19 infection.

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In Ghana, according to the Ministry of Health, some 24 suspected cases, which were reported, have all tested negative for COVID-19. This is in spite of the fact that the WHO has classified Ghana among 13 Priority-1 countries that are at high risk.

Indeed, shortly after the virus appeared, specialists warned of the risks of its spreading in Africa because of the continent’s close commercial links with Beijing and the fragility of its medical services. Strangely though, all three cases reported in Africa are believed to be foreigners who had travelled to the continent within the last few days.

No proof

Experts wonder how it could be that a remarkably small number for a continent with nearly 1.3 billion inhabitants will witness only three recorded cases and no deaths so far, despite all the warning to Africans.

However, there is currently no proof as to why Africans seem ‘safe’, so far. Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, from the African Institute for Health Research in Durban, South Africa, says as to why the epidemic is not more widespread in the continent, “nobody knows”, adding that “perhaps there is simply not that much travel between Africa and China.”

Issues of favourable climate factors have also been raised as a possibility. According to the head of the infectious diseases department at Bichat Hospital in Paris, Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah, “perhaps the virus doesn’t spread in the African ecosystem, we don’t know.”

His hypothesis has, however, been rejected by Professor Rodney Adam, who heads the infection control task force at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. Prof. Adam says “there is no current evidence to indicate that climate affects transmission.” He said “while it is true that, for certain infections, there may be genetic differences in susceptibility…there is no current evidence to that effect for Covid-19.”

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Preparedness

A study in The Lancet found that in Africa, Nigeria, declared as a country at moderate risk of contamination, is also one of the best-equipped in the continent to handle such an epidemic.

This notwithstanding, the first case recorded in sub-Saharan Africa was in Nigerian despite all of its preparations.

The Italian who tested positive for the coronavirus in Lagos had arrived from Milan on February 24, but had no symptoms when his plane landed.

This tells us that we must be well prepared as a country to face the canker.

Altmann, an expert in infectious diseases in developing countries, is reported to have said that the fact that coronavirus appears to have entered sub-Saharan Africa through Nigeria is “actually good news”, because the country appears to be relatively well prepared for confronting the situation.

The question on the mind of many Ghanaians is could same be said about Ghana?

Ghana’s preparation

Government says it has committed an initial amount of GH₵2.8 million to help the country’s preparation for the fight against the disease.

A statement from the Ministry of Health says, contrary to claims that Ghana is not prepared to deal with the disease should it spread into the country, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) and Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research indicate they have capacity to test for the COVID-19 disease. The Ministry also says, using the guidelines from WHO, it has developed a plan to address identified gaps in respect of preparedness, response and control activities.

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OccupyGhana, a Ghanaian based civil society organisation, has asked the government to have a ‘Plan B’ in dealing with the issue when our resources are stretched to the maximum, in the face of a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

They have suggested surveillance, containment, prevention, treatment, coordination and finance as ‘variables’ for planning for a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

Prevention

Experts say standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

With ‘corona’ putting all of us at risk due to our socio-cultural and economic systems, we must as individuals, aside from government’s preparation, also protect ourselves as much as possible.

Knowing the level of our political polarisation in this country, and how every serious issue is reduced to a binary discussion between the two leading political parties, we must try all our possible best to prevent the disease from entering our corridors. This is because, as an election year, a single confirmed case will put all of us at a higher risk since the discussion on it will be more political than trying to find solution to the issue.

And while I believe in prayers and convinced that we should pray about it, our preparation as humans in doing our bit should be equally paramount.

Let us adhere to the basic prevention recommendations and rush to the nearest hospital as soon as we become suspicious of any potential signs of the disease.

 

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