Covid-19 is hitting communities in Ghana hard

The coronavirus pandemic has hit communities in Ghana hard, either directly or indirectly through fear and panic of infection and the economic consequences of lockdown.

As of 30 April, 2020, 2,074 people in Ghana had tested positive for covid-19 and 17 people had died. The majority of cases have been in the Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi—the two areas where the bulk of economic activities in Ghana take place—and the government put these areas into lockdown for three weeks on 30 March, 2020. Schools across the country had already been closed, and public events and large gatherings banned. 

In Ghana, people infected with covid-19 and their families face stigmatisation, isolation, rejection and discrimination. Societal norms coupled with misconceptions and misinformation about the pandemic and lack of resources has increased vulnerability.

The government has put in place various national, public health and economic measures to prevent and contain coronavirus, but these do not adequately cater for marginalised people who live at the edges of society. This includes women and girls in rural and urban slums, street girls, women in the informal economy, such as vendors and caregivers, people with disabilities, HIV and AIDS, and other chronic illnesses.

In deprived communities there is inadequate access to hygiene facilities, such as water, soap and sanitizer, and to health facilities. The most vulnerable and poor people cannot afford face masks, which have been made compulsory. The self-employed, particularly market women, hairdressers, petty traders and street vendors, have been hardest hit by the economic consequences of lock down, and the incidence of intimate violence during the period of lockdown and restriction of movement has been alarming.

Ghana’s economy is poor and the health system is weak. Lockdown and restriction of movement has reduced community interaction, is disrupting people’s already fragile access to health and other essential services. Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and others health services may be diverted to pandemic response, leading to increased morbidity and mortality and deterioration in other health outcomes (malaria, HIV/AIDS, cholera, diabetes, etc) as has been seen in previous epidemics. Restrictions on movement have decreased overall access to food supplies and markets and have also increased prices for food, increasing risk of malnutrition and starvation among poor and marginalised groups.

School closures can increase and exacerbate inequities and vulnerabilities for children and can increase the likelihood of early or forced marriage, gender-based violence and adolescent pregnancies. Prolonged school closures will increase the risk of girls dropping out of school and that risk will grow the longer they stay at home.

The 3Ts method (trace, test and treat) is being used to identify and isolate infected people to contain the spread of the virus. As at 20 April 2020, 86,000 contacts had been traced, of which 68,591 had been tested and 1,042 (1.5%) confirmed positive for covid-19. Of these, 212 have recovered and been discharged, and 930 have been isolated either in their homes or in treatment facilities. Some 18,000 tests results are yet to be received.

The majority of people infected in Ghana have mild or no symptoms. A very small number have required hospital treatment and only nine people, all with underlying ailments, have died.

Drones are being used to hasten transport of samples to laboratories so confirmed cases can be quickly identified, isolated and treated. Domestic production of personal protective equipment has been scaled up. Scientists at the University of Ghana have successfully sequenced genomes of the virus responsible for the covid-19 from 15 confirmed cases to strengthen surveillance for mutations of the virus and to aid tracing the sources of infections in people with no known contact with a confirmed case.

While lockdown was lifted on the 16 April, all educational facilities remain closed, public and large gatherings remain banned, and wearing face masks has been made compulsory to reduce the person-to-person spread. Businesses and other workplaces can operate with strict observation of social distancing and hygiene protocols.

Alex Adusei is the Executive Director of the Women’s Hope Foundation in Ghana and World Health Organisation Patients Safety Programme, Patients for Patient Safety Champion.

Competing interests: none declared.