Here we are, Ghana, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea where COVID-19 is concerned.
The active cases keep clambering upwards, and there is a sense of “oh, these are normal numbers” about the regular Ghana Health Service coronavirus alerts – so normal that for many of us, the number of active cases, the numbers of deaths, the number of recovered and discharged…
All seem to be just that – numbers.
And that is where the devil resides. They are not just numbers. Every active case is a mother, father or sibling, every dead person was a loved one, every discharged patient still suffering complications and is not well enough to go to work may be a bread winner, a cherished family member and contributor to society.
Those COVID-19 numbers you hear on TV and radio and read on your devices are not just numbers. They are human beings with hopes and dreams.
The moment we forget that, we begin losing the COVID-19 fight.
And for us, here at the Multimedia Group, it has become clear that one particular group of people need intervention.
They are a mass of very critical warriors in this fight whose interest is perhaps most vital, and whose sustenance is – and must be – everybody’s business.
We speak of the Ghanaian health worker.
You see, the management of COVID-19 is like a Venn diagram. There are many stakeholders, such as the government, civil society, workers, and the ordinary Ghanaian.
The one constant in the entire diagram are health workers.
The entire COVID-19 management chain will not collapse without government. It will not collapse without civil society. It will not collapse without the ordinary Ghanaian.
But without the health workers it will collapse.
For the moment, that workforce is crumbling under the weight of this novel disease and all its attendant problems:
- An anxious Ghanaian populace that is generally not following COVID-19 preventive protocols
- Fearful citizens who are generally not reporting their sick status on time due to a lack of information and a fear of stigmatization
- Unclear, untimely and mixed messages on what to do and what not to do from the health authorities.
These are just three key factors, but there are more.
In all this, the fact remains that when everyone in this Venn diagram catches COVID-19, they, eventually, end up at the door of the Ghanaian health worker.
And yet, are these health workers ready for the battle?
In a statement by 200 health workers recently, they said hundreds of their colleagues have tested positive and are out of the facilities. Some have even died, reducing significantly, the number of health workers available to treat not just COVID-19 cases, but other ailments as well.
Last Wednesday, the Minister of Education, Dr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh, who – to the glory of God – has recovered from the virus, revealed that after he tested positive twice, a mass testing exercise was conducted at his ministry, and results showed that 90% of staff there were also positive.
They were among the lucky ones, because, at least, they got their test results in time to begin self-isolating.
Our reporters are currently inundated with information that thousands of Ghanaians are not so lucky.
Indeed, the signs that our health workers need an intervention have been there for months now. If only we had paid attention.
In mid-April, the President of the Ghana Medical Association, at a meeting with President Akufo-Addo at the Jubilee House, hinted at some of these critical challenges. Specifically, Dr. Frank Ankobea called on government and the Ministry of Health to reconsider the model for the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to guarantee even distribution of same across all regions of the country. On an almost daily bases, correspondents of the Multimedia Group nationwide file stories that show this call was not heeded. Distribution of PPEs is not being done in an organized way, leading to health workers being needlessly exposed to the disease.
For example, staff at the Ho Hospital, where a surgeon and two critical care staff tested positive three weeks ago, have had cause to tell journalists that due to the absence of PPEs and the rising number of COVID-19 cases, they’re having to use fabric nose masks to work.
At that same meeting with the President in mid-April, the GMA boss Dr. Ankobea, on the issue of testing of potential Covid-19 patients, called on government to take a critical look at empowering and upgrading some laboratories around the country to allow them to carry out testing of samples. That was in April.
Three months on, now, in July, the country has taken several steps back in this direction, because reports on the ground suggest that Ghanaians who take COVID-19 tests get their results after two weeks, on average.
Why is this happening? According to Dr. Kofi Bonney, a research fellow at Noguchi, at the beginning of this month, the seven centres that were set up to assist the Institute in speeding up Covid-19 testing in the country had ceased operating because the centres have run out of essentials needed to undertake testing.
What this means is that if you suspect you have COVID-19 and take a test, by the time your test result is ready in about two weeks, you could have infected a whole community of people. The immediate effect of this is pressure on an already burdened health workforce.
Another area we need intervention for the health worker are the existing protocols in health centers for when staff test positive. Standard operating procedure suggests that they go into self-isolation immediately. But in many places, that’s not happening, because health workers testing positive are either not being told their status, or despite knowing they are positive, are still being asked to show up at work.
Take, for example, the Pentecost Hospital, here, in Accra. Last week Tuesday, 55 out of 60 random staff tested positive. Almost all the doctors, including the director of the hospital are positive.
Three units of the hospital have been closed down. And, yet, despite staff being positive, they are being asked to get back to work! Can you believe it?
Well, you should. Because similar scenarios are playing out nationwide.
At the Ridge Hospital, our checks show that at least 15 junior doctors were as at last Wednesday – and the numbers are increasing. Due to the increasing caseload, however, it’s becoming difficult to ask these junior doctors to go and self-isolate, especially because most of them are not showing signs.
Even more critical, our reports from that facility, Korle Bu are others show that administrators are uncertain about protocols to activate to protect these healthcare workers.
So far, we have backed everything with verifiable information. However, can we stand by as our own staff strength does not allow us to verify all those claims in our message inboxes? The concerns from helplessly understaffed, overstretched under-resourced health workers across the nation?
In good conscience, we cannot do so.
At this point, saving the health worker may be a direct consequence of COVID-19, but it casts a long shadow over the entire health system because more and more health workers from other specializations are being drafted into this COVID-19 fight. What this means is that when you have a back ache or malaria or some other malady, it is likely your hospital General Practitioner may not be available to you, because they are helping to fight COVID-19.
We are at a crisis stage where we must act decisively to save our health system from collapse. Speed is of the essence, and this is why we at the Multimedia Group believe the time is now to rally everyone to stand beside us to #SaveTheHealthWorker.
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