As with all other national challenges we face, it is important that we take account of the hard data in the fight against novel corona virus, or COVID-19, as it has been properly named. Data is how we will know where we are in our efforts, what is working and what revisions we need to make to the strategy we are implementing. Without data, we are likely to succumb to hysteria and defeatism or be lulled into a false sense of optimism, based on anecdotal data or even the countless audios, videos and texts we are inundated with on social media. Thankfully, we have some data to asses (see Table 1).
A review of the records (see Figure 1) shows that in Africa, South Africa has the fastest infection rates. It also has the highest number of recorded cases. South Africa is followed by Egypt (456), Algeria (302) and Morocco (225), all of which are in North Africa. These rates are also among the highest among developing countries. For context, however, South Africa’s 709 cases are much fewer than Germany’s 40,585 recorded infections, which is itself at the lower end of infection rates in OECD countries.
Closer home, we find that our neighbour to the north, for example, is faring rather worse than we are (see Figure 2). Burkina Faso recorded their first case just three days before we did and continues to lead us by more than a dozen cases (132 Vs 146). Our infection rate has gone up but only because of the robust testing measures we have adopted.
Of the one hundred and thirty-two (132) recorded infections that we have had, only three so far have been through community spread and two through contacts with returnees. Every other case we have recorded has been of people coming into or returning to the country. Seventy-eight (78) of those infections were recorded from among those that were mandatorily quarantined on the orders of the president after the closure of sea, land and airports on the midnight of Sunday 22nd March 2020. The silver lining under this cloud here is that these seventy-eight (78) persons who tested positive for the virus had had no contact at all with locals and could therefore not have passed on the infection. This is a powerful vindication of the government’s directive and a weight off not just the minds of Ghanaians but our healthcare system. For those that came in earlier, aggressive contact tracing is helping identify those who had come into contact with infected persons for testing and treatment, where necessary.
Of course, we are not out of the woods yet and we have to remain vigilant, follow the rules and protect ourselves and our loved ones, but this data, on the whole, provides a glimmer of hope that we will overcome this. Our infection rate is much slower than that of our neighbours and is set to slow still with the recent, more aggressive measures that have been enacted. It also means that we should not be in a haste to adopt much more stringent measures as some are advocating. The spike in infections actually shows that our methods are working and we are getting a handle on the situation. Each new number from those quarantined represents infections NOT passed on. As we move further to identify all those who arrived in the country on or before 3rd March, 2020 and trace the contacts they have had, we will arrive at a more accurate assessment of our position.
What we have to do now is to support these measures, keep faith with our leaders and follow the simple rules of social distancing, improved hygiene practices and personal care. We must also be sure not to give in to either hysteria or false confidence, both of which in the current climate, are literally bad for our health. Slowly, steadily, with God on our side, we will make it through this. As President Akufo Addo has assured us, this too shall pass. And if we follow the rules, it will do so quickly.
By: Prince Hamid Armah, PhD