Has Ghana really successfully managed the COVID-19 pandemic?
The government of Ghana has flaunted its prowess in flattening the COVID-19 curve and curbing any exponential increase in the spread and fatalities from the pandemic.
They attribute the management of the global pandemic to excellent leadership of the President. There is a widespread notion that suggests Ghana has managed the global pandemic better than developed nations. As a result, a section of the Ghanaian public seems to believe that Ghana has taken some appropriate policies and health interventions that have minimized the cases and fatalities from the pandemic.
The people making this assertion are even soliciting for advanced economies to come and learn from Ghana’s experience in how to effectively manage the pandemic. In fact, the numbers do not look good, in particular, for European countries like France, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States (US). We are witnessing a resurgence in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. On the 30th October, the US recorded a single day new infections of over 91,000 cases mostly as a result of Trump’s lackadaisical attitude to the pandemic.
Current statistics from Ghana show the total number of cases is above 48,000, with recovered cases above 47,000, and the number of deaths about 320. The government has mostly used the active cases (total cases minus recovered cases) as a metric to tout how successful they have handled or controlled the pandemic. \
Although Ghana has a recovery rate that is almost 98%, this is not peculiar to Ghana alone, but in many other African countries. For instance, if you compute the recovery rate based on the Google COVID-19 Alert database, the recovery rate is 94% in Cote d’Ivoire, 93% in Nigeria, and 90% in South Africa (even the highest hit country in Africa).
Equally, when we look at it in terms of crude statistics such as the total deaths and the case fatality rate (CFR – the number of deaths as a percentage of total cases), Ghana’s neighboring countries also have low deaths and CFR. For instance, if we compare Ghana to Cote d’Ivoire which also has very similar age structure and population demographics, Cote d’Ivoire has even lower number of deaths, 124 deaths compared to 320 deaths in Ghana. In terms of case fatality rate, Cote d’Ivoire has a rate of 0.57% in comparison to 0.67% for Ghana.
So, Ghana may not be doing anything special in controlling the pandemic, but due to the population and age dynamics of the country, we are witnessing high recovery rate. The age structure within a country constitutes a critical factor for the pandemic to wreak substantial havoc. According to data from the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), it shows clearly that about 79% of the deaths from the COVID-19 cases were above 65 years. Similarly, the statistics also show that in the UK, the average age of people who have died from COVID-19 is 82 years.
On average, Ghana has a youthful population that is outside the domain of the vulnerable group which suffers the most fatalities from the COVID-19 infections. According to the World Bank Development Indicators (WDI), Ghana has only 3% of its total population aged 65 years and above, and this shows the most vulnerable age group is statistically insignificant or non-existent. So, we may have lower fatalities, but this is not because of any concrete or better interventions that Ghana has than the US, the UK or France. A more critical analysis of the age structure or population dynamics would give credence to Ghana’s youthful population as the main factor helping to control or minimize any substantial havoc from the disease.
Apart from this, the dominant practice of long-term care, nursing homes and hospice facilities in advanced countries in which the aged or elderly people are put in nursing homes was also a major contributing factor to their overwhelming cases.
The nursing homes promote a fertile ground for the infections to spread like bushfires and increase fatalities as the vulnerable group are put together in one place. Anecdotal evidence supports this fact as the number of cases and deaths were high in many nursing homes in Europe and North America.
According to the US CDC, a substantial number of cases (550,581) and deaths (50,871) were from the nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Compared to Ghana, we keep our aged population in our individual homes, and this automatically reduces the exposure of these vulnerable people, all at the same time and at the same place.
In addition, Ghana has a lower number of cases because we are not conducting enough tests due to inadequate health infrastructure. Currently, Ghana has conducted about 416,988 tests. Results from a recent study presented at a Webinar by scientists from the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Disease (WACCBIP) in collaboration with the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIR) estimated that about 1.2 million people in Accra alone have been infected with COVID-19.
This points to a large number of community infections which are not captured in Ghana’s total cases. For the purpose of comparison, if we account for the population size, and use the number of tests per 1000 people, comparatively, Ghana has conducted only 17 tests per 1000 people compared to 440 tests per 1000 people in the US, 413 test per 1000 people in the UK, and 261 tests per 1000 people in Germany. Thus, the low cases cannot be used as a yardstick to measure how Ghana has successfully managed the pandemic.
For political expediency and quest to win political power at all cost, we have seen a continuous failure on the part of the government to control the public disregard for all safety protocols. There was no strict adherence to any of the safety protocols such as social distancing and wearing of face masks during the food distribution at the time of the lockdown, at the NPP primaries and the compilation of the new voters’ register. Currently, we have both parties, NDC and NPP organizing political campaigns where members of the public openly disregard the safety guidelines with impunity.
Certainly, there is a large number of Ghana’s population with the COVID-19 infections, but are asymptomatic, mainly because of the youthful age. However, this youthful group can constitute a substantial risk to the vulnerable group if they come into contact with them. Ghana is not out of the woods yet, let’s not compromise the health of the vulnerable group just for political expediency.
The author is the Founder, Centre for Trade Policy Analysis and Development CETAD Ghana.