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Opinions of Saturday, 21 March 2020

Columnist: Kofi Asaah

Coronavirus: The truth, the myth and the way forward for Ghana

Introduction

On January 30th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 (previously termed 'novel coronavirus' or '2019-nCoV'), a public health emergency of international concern. COVID-19 is caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is sometimes also referred to as the COVID-19 virus.

As the epidemic continues to spread to more countries, people around the world were by then wondering about the trajectory of the epidemic and whether they should be concerned. Media reports of the epidemic often focus on the more eye-catching events: travel restrictions, closing down of major airports, lockdown of entire cities or images of supermarket supplies running out in areas perceived to be at high risk.

On social media, other reports about the epidemic range from unsubstantiated rumours to deliberate disinformation increasing the sense of panic many individuals are experiencing. Africa and for that matter, Ghana were spared this ordeal by time, but hey! COVID-19 is here with us now.

Robust, reliable analysis is vital at this stage not only as a way to give concerned members of the public a sense of perspective, but also to give credence to government efforts and response to the pandemic. Government alone CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS PANDEMIC. The right information must be made available to all stakeholders especially community leaders to ensure calm and reduce panic, which has proven to be the main drivers of myth and misinformation on the mainstream and social media.

The Truth

• A suspected case is a patient with acute respiratory illness (fever and at least one sign/symptom of respiratory disease (e.g., cough, shortness of breath), AND with no other etiology that fully explains the clinical presentation AND a history of travel to or residence in a country/area or territory reporting local transmission OR A patient with any acute respiratory illness AND having been in contact with a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case in the last 14 days prior to onset of symptoms; OR A patient with severe acute respiratory infection (fever and at least one sign/symptom of respiratory disease (e.g., cough, shortness breath) AND requiring hospitalization AND with no other etiology that fully explains the clinical presentation.

• COVID-19 spreads primarily from person to person. Droplets released when someone sick sneezes or cough can land on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Close contact like hugging and shaking hands with someone sick can also spread the virus.

• Surfaces (like desks, tables, lift buttons, doorknobs) and objects like (telephones, keyboards, pens,) should be wiped with disinfectants regularly at the workplace. This implies if you touch something contaminated and then touch your face or another’s face, you might all fall ill.

• If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 infection

• Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing. Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-washing with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and running water. If you wear a mask then you must know how to use it and disposed of it properly.

• Comply with restriction on travels, movement or large or social gatherings



The Myth

• There is no relationship between climate and the transmission of COVID-19
From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather, cold or snow. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting COVID-19. Taking a hot bath does not prevent the new coronavirus disease

• Taking a hot bath will not prevent you from catching COVID-19.
Your normal body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower. Actually, taking a hot bath with extremely hot water can be harmful, as it can burn you

• Are hand dryers effective in killing the new coronavirus?
Hand dryers are not effective in killing the 2019-nCoV. To protect yourself against the new coronavirus, you should frequently clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Once your hands are cleaned, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm air dryer.

• How effective are thermal scanners in detecting people infected with the new coronavirus?:

Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have developed a fever (i.e. have a higher than normal body temperature) because of infection with the new coronavirus. However, they cannot detect people who are infected but are not yet sick with fever. This is because it takes between 2 and 10 days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever.

• Can eating garlic help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?
Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties. However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus

• Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible?

People of all ages can be infected by COVID-19. Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. It is advised that people of all ages take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

• Are there any specific medicines to prevent or treat the new coronavirus?

To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat COVID-19. However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care. Some specific treatments are under investigation and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range of partners.

The most effective way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is by frequently washing your hands with soap and running water or cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub.



Way forward

There are many things that can be observed to restore some hope against the fight at hand. As directed by the President, Nana Akuffo Addo, Let’s all support the fight at hand. Aside travel restrictions, let’s practice the following.

Physical distancing measures:

• Like cancelling sporting events, concerts and other large gatherings – can help to slow transmission of the virus. I repeat, slow transmission of the virus.

• This can also reduce the burden on the health system which are not the best and well equipped to deal with this kind situations.

• And they can help to make epidemics manageable, allowing targeted and focused measures.

• But to suppress and control epidemics, Patients must isolate, test, treat and trace. If this is not done, transmission chains can continue at a low level, then resurge once physical distancing measures are lifted.

WHO continues to recommend that isolating, testing and treating EVERY suspected case, and tracing EVERY contact, must be the backbone of the response in every country. This is the best hope of preventing widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in Ghana.

The South Korea experience:

• A month ago, the Republic of Korea was faced with accelerating community transmission. But it didn’t surrender.

• It educated, empowered and engaged communities. It developed an innovative testing strategy and expanded laboratory capacity

• It did exhaustive contact tracing and testing in selected areas.

• And it isolated suspected cases in designated facilities rather than hospitals or at home.

• As a result, cases have been declining for weeks. At the peak there were more than 800 cases a day, and gradually the incidence reduced to 90 a day cases. This is a model Ghana can also adopt.

A comprehensive approach, as recommended by the WHO, (isolate, test, treat, trace as well as educate and engage communities) with the aim of slowing down transmission and containing the virus is what is required to save lives and buy time whiles waiting for the development of treatments and vaccines.

As directed by the WHO, The same spirit of solidarity used against Ebola must be at the centre of our efforts to defeat COVID-19; Health service, Political actors, Religious leaders, Community leaders, Security services, business community, teachers, social media actors, bloggers, all must join hands in whatever positive way possible to fight COVID-19 in Ghana.

Ghana first!

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