Per Ghana’s preparedness plan for an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, the state is operating along the World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols.
Alerts have been sent to all regions to update their respective preparedness plans and activate their respective public health management committees.
Ghana is among 13 priority countries in Africa identified as being at high risk of getting the virus because of their established links with China.
So far, the Ridge Hospital and the Tema General Hospital have been earmarked as case management centres.
Four other facilities; the Ga East Hospital, the Police Hospital, the LEKMA Hospital and the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital have been identified as additional facilities to support case management.
Technical support visits have also been undertaken by the Institutional Care Division (ICD) of Ghana Health Service and WHO to some designated facilities to assess preparedness.
Staff at the two identified treatment centres have also been given preliminary training in case management.
We currently have testing capabilities for the virus at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research. The centres have handled 24 suspected cases so far.
The United States government is, so far, also providing technical support and funding.
The National Technical Coordinating Committee has met twice to coordinate national preparedness activities.
Ghana’s National Public Emergency Preparedness Plan has been updated and a draft COVID-19 preparedness plan has been developed.
National Rapid Response Teams have been activated and National Level Training for Rapid Response teams and other Health Workers on the Severe Acute Respiratory Illness has been done.
Training of regional and district rapid response teams is yet to happen but there are plans for its execution as well as clinical sensitisation, according to the state.
As far as Ghana’s points of entry are concerned, the state has held stakeholder engagements with the Ghana Airport Company limited management and the Kotoka International Airport, Ghana Immigration Service, Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority, Tema Port to strengthen surveillance systems.
The screening of passengers on arrival is ongoing with the use of thermal scanning and declaration forms.
Alerts and health education are being displayed on airport screens, pull-ups and leaflets at arrival and departure halls at KIA.
Ghana is however yet to identify priority areas as the state has said it is currently receiving support from the World Health Organisation, World Bank and other Health partners are to identify priority areas in line with the WHO national capacities tool.
Key messages and education materials on COVID-19 preparedness have been developed, according to the document though they do not appear to be in circulation.
The state also says radio and television discussions and engagements on the outbreak and Ghana’s preparedness activities have been started and are ongoing.
Some jingles have been developed for public education in regions and districts, but they do not appear to be widespread.
So far, the government’s communication on the matter has focused on information on the evolution of the “outbreak globally, clinical symptoms, directions on prevention and measures being taken within the country to early detect and manage possible cases.”
Funding for preparedness
The total budget for preparedness with regard to the novel coronavirus stands at GHS 35 million.
But the state admits there are funding gaps and additional funding will be required to implement remaining activities at the national level.
Support from Government so far has gone towards the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), coordination activities and health declaration forms.
What is Covid-19?
The novel coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has claimed more than 2,700 lives and has infected over 80,000 people across almost 50 countries.
It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before, hence the prefix “novel”.
Coronaviruses 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).
Like other coronaviruses, this new strain is transmitted between animals and people.
Many of the first cases in China either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of Wuhan.
What are the symptoms this coronavirus causes?
According to WHO, common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
The virus can also cause pneumonia in severe cases and even organ failure.
The novel coronavirus is airborne and symptoms begin to manifest after 14 days. An infected person could transmit the disease before symptoms begin to manifest.
How is the virus spread?
The virus is spread mainly from between people who are in close contact with one another, ie within about 6 feet, and via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into one’s lungs.
How to protect yourself
To prevent the spread, the standard recommendations coming from the WHO is regular hand washing, covering one’s mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.
We are also advised to avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
WHO has also given more detailed guidelines on how workplaces can put in place proactive measures with the virus in mind.
How contagious is the virus?
It is not yet known how contagious the coronavirus is. The fatality rate of the virus has also not been officially determined but it is thought to be around 2 percent.
A recent study published in a medical journal revealed that the average age of a coronavirus patient is 55 years old.
Also, 80 percent of those who have died from the disease were aged 60 or above.
How critical is the situation?
The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern but it is not yet a pandemic. WHO describes a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a disease”.
The virus has just spread to Sub-Saharan Africa with a case recorded in Lagos, Nigeria. Egypt had the first case of Covid-19 in Africa, followed by Algeria.
But the case in Nigeria will offer more concern to Ghana given the ties and frequency of travel between the two countries.
New cases were also recorded in Estonia, Denmark, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands on February 27.
The worst-hit in recent times has been Italy, which has seen a rise in the cases to 650 with 17 deaths.
So far, the virus has killed at least 2,800 people and has infected more than 82,000 worldwide, mostly in China.