Over the weekend, Joyce Bawah Mogtari, Special Aide to President John Mahama, came under severe criticism and suffered personal attacks for tweeting the following message on Saturday, May 16: “How the hell did 790 more people recover overnight!! We need to put these numbers to strict proof!!” Her tweet followed Ghana Health Service COVID-19 update on Friday, May 15th, which indicated a total of 1,754 recoveries.
Let me say from the outset that, as a Ghanaian and Special Aide to President John Mahama, Mrs Bawah Mogtari is entitled to her freedom of speech guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution. You may disagree with what she tweeted, but no one has the right to attack her person or verbally abuse her. I, therefore, condemn in no uncertain terms the personal attacks and insults directed at Mrs Mogtari for her tweet on Saturday.
Regarding her tweet, however, MrsBawah Mogtari could have done better. She is not just a lawyer and a former Deputy Minister of Transport, but also, more importantly, she is a Special Aide to President John Mahama. She speaks for the former President. Her public comments are supposed to reflect the thinking and personality of the former President.
Given that we are in an election year and the fight against COVID-19 is increasingly becoming political, Mrs Mogtari would know that her tweet was tinged with political undertones. As a politician in her own right, she would have expected some reaction either directly from government or supporters of the ruling party, at the very least. But then, what was wrong with what Mrs Mogtari tweeted?
First, as a Special Aide to President Mahama, Mrs Mogtari needs to pay attention to the science and communication around COVID-19 so that when she has to comment, she does so from an informed position. Before persons infected by COVID-19 are declared recovered, they must test negative for the virus, as required by protocols in many countries. In Ghana, the protocol used is that infected persons must test negative on two consecutive times.
Government, through the Ministry of Information briefings, has been explaining this protocol for many weeks now. The Information Minister had said on numerous occasions that many persons who had been infected were awaiting results of their second tests and once those tests came back negative, those people would be declared recovered. If Mrs Mogtari had been paying attention to the science and the communication, she would not have been surprised that the results of 790 persons were published “overnight” as recovered. Mind you, the people did not recover overnight; recovery from COVID-19 does not take place overnight and
Ghana Health Service or Government has never said people recover overnight. The publication of the number of people who have recovered, simply means those people recovered some time ago and the results of their second tests came back negative. As a Special Aide to President Mahama, Mrs. Mogtari needs to understand this and be able to communicate same to her audience.
What is most worrying about her post though, is its negative impact on an already-worrying level of stigmatization of people who have recovered from COVID-19. For instance, earlier this month, Joy FM’s Kojo Yankson reported from a community in the Upper East Region where an 8-year recounted how she was attacked with stones by other children in the community for being the child of a recovered COVID 19 patient.
Let me ask Mrs Mogtari, assuming this recovered patient was a known NDC supporter included in the 790 published by the Ghana Health Service, and people in her community doubted she had actually recovered and wanted to put her recovery to “strict proof”, would Mrs Mogtari not consider that political harassment of an NDC supporter or would she accept that people simply are following her advice to subject Ghana Health Service recoveries data to strict proof? How does her tweet help to fight against COVID-19 stigmatization?
Put differently, how does Mrs Mogtari not realize that her tweet is going to feed into the stigmatization of recovered COVID-19 patients? The only reason people try to shun recovered patients is because they don’t believe the people have actually recovered from the Coronavirus and fear they may contract the virus from such persons.
How does Mrs Mogtari propose to recovered patients to be able to prove to people in their communities that they have indeed recovered from COVID-19? How did Mrs Mogtari and other Ghanaians get to know people were infected by COVID-19? Is it not through the test results published by the same Ghana Health Service via its updates?
So how does Mrs Mogtari accept the confirmed cases and President Mahama is able to use that data to accuse government of failing to control the spread of the Coronavirus, but when the same Ghana Health Service publishes recoveries data, that data must be subjected to strict proof? Or was she simply doing politics for the sake of politics?
Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako, Accra
May 18, 2020