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Opinions of Sunday, 26 April 2020

Columnist: Mathias Mawuli Ametefe

Coronavirus: 'Spread calm not fear' mantra doing more harm than good to Ghanaians

Ghana, just like any other nation around the world is battling with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic which is fast spreading and claiming many lives of which the western worlds, with the most sophisticated health facilities, are ironically the hardest hit by the non-discriminatory virus.

The World Health Organization, just like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continues to predict doom for Africa as the Coronavirus continues to spread to all corners of the earth. On a cursory look, one may think these global superpowers wish evil for Africa. On the contrary, with the literacy ratios, belief systems and other socio-economic factors of most Africans countries, one could easily predict that “ceteris paribus” the impact of the coronavirus disease will be comparatively worse in Africa and for that matter, the faster African Leaders act to avert the looming disaster the better.

It will be recalled that, ever since Ghana started recording cases of COVID-19, almost all announcements of recorded cases are accompanied by the slogan “spread Calm Not Fear”. The continuous chanting of these words in Ghana in the face of a viral disease that is severe enough to bring lives and global economies to a crush is worrisome to say the least.

In a country where some people perceive and attribute disease causality to spirituality with others having firm belief that substances like hibiscus leaves locally known as “sobolo”, garlic, ginger, alcohol among others will help them get immunity against the virus or cure them should they be infected, there is the need for scientific, culturally competent risk communication far from the spread calm not fear mantra if we really want people to adhere to precautionary measures in preventing the disease.

CORONAVIRUS RISK COMMUNICATION USING THE HEALTH BELIEF MODEL (HBM)

The President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in his 7th address to the nation on the coronavirus pandemic, said, his decisions were based on science and data which is commendable. Now, science has proven that, most health interventions, just like the ongoing education on Covid-19 prevention fail to achieve their goals because they are usually not premised on theory and/or proper evaluation.

One of the commonest theories used by Scientists in social and psychological health behavior change is the Health Belief Model developed in the early 1950s by social scientists at the U.S Public Health Service.

The model suggests that, for individuals to take actions aimed at preventing a disease, their perception of how likely it is for them to get the disease (Perceived Susceptibility), their perception of how serious the disease is should they be infected (Perceived Severity), their perception of whether preventive measures being thought by Health Authorities such as social distancing, wearing of nose masks, avoiding handshakes, regular handwashing and sanitizing in the case of Coronavirus can actually help reduce the chances of them getting the disease (Perceived Benefits) and their perception of possible impediments in successfully carrying out the preventive measures thought by Health Experts such as non-availability of facemasks or inability to purchase one, unavailability of water for handwashing, lack of hand sanitizers, nature of their work among other things (Perceived Barriers) and their ability to overcome these barriers as well as what is known as CUES TO ACTION such as seeing that people they know are getting the disease and are dying from the disease combine to determine whether they will take ACTION to prevent the disease or not.

As far as the Ghanaian’s perception about Covid-19 remains very crucial in preventing the disease, the continuous chanting of spread calm not fear, is contra-scientific, doing more harm than good and should be discouraged as soon as possible. The Coronavirus disease is actually dangerous looking at the havoc it is wreaking in other countries, hence, the earlier we see it as such as a nation, the better. Let us be reminded that, coming out with actual facts and figures on number of cases, deaths among others and telling people the severity of the disease does not amount to spreading fear.

It will rather heighten people’s perception of risk which will let them take steps to prevent getting infected, especially as the government has lifted the restriction on movements at the hard-hit areas of the country with many predicting a spike in the number of cases as a result.

Government and Health Authorities should give Ghanaians facts and timely updates on the Covid-19 situation in Ghana and stop giving false hopes in the name of spreading calm to help Ghanaians take the precautionary measures serious to help contain this pandemic. This too shall pass.

May God bless our homeland Ghana and make our Nation Great and strong.

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