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Press Releases of Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Source: Society of Family Physicians of Ghana

SOFPOG celebrates World Family Doctor Day

The World Family Doctor Day is held every year on May 19, to highlight the role and contributions of family doctors in health care systems around the world. This important day was first declared in 2010 by the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) and is currently celebrated globally.

The objective of the World Family Doctor Day (WFDD) celebration is to recognize the central role of the specialty of Family Medicine in the delivery of a personal, comprehensive and continuing health care for all patients irrespective of gender, age or type of disease. It is also to celebrate the progress being made locally and globally in Family Medicine and to celebrate the contribution of family doctors worldwide thereby increasing the morale of family doctors.

Since its declaration, the day has also been used to address vital health issues globally and locally. The theme for WONCA’s 2020 World Family Doctor Day is “Family doctors on the frontline-First in, last out. This theme was chosen to highlight the challenges and responsibilities of family doctors in the fight of the new global COVID-19 pandemic.

In view of this worldwide theme, the Society of Family Physicians of Ghana (SOFPOG) chose the theme: The Role of frontliners-Family Physicians in the management of COVID-19 pandemic at the primary care level.
This year more than ever, the work of family doctors all around the world has been overwhelmingly clear. Family physicians have risen to the challenge of fighting this novel COVID-19 pandemic.

Family doctors continue to run their clinics all over the country amidst a lot of uncertainties, not knowing if a patient has the virus or not. We are involved in triaging, taking of samples on patients presumed to have signs and symptoms of coronavirus infection and admitting them to holding areas while awaiting results, providing initial treatment and referring to treatment centres when the results come in positive. Most family doctors have also volunteered to work at most of the treatment centres across the country and they assist the public health personnel in contact tracing. Even after patients get better, tested negative and have been discharged, family doctors will have to continue the care of such patients as they face other psychosocial challenges like stigmatization, depression and anxiety.

They help in the process of reintegrating patients into the family and the community after a long period of quarantine. Family doctors are performing these enormous task whiles continuing to provide care to other patients with different medical conditions both acute and chronic as the pandemic did not suddenly take away other existing diseases from our communities. In most instances family doctors have to make difficult adjustments to their practices in order to cope with the numerous unexpected challenges that arise daily in their work.

In performing all these duties, the family doctor is not immune to the numerous challenges that have burdened our society because of this pandemic. In fact, the family doctor themselves are at increased risk of psychosocial distress as a result of the increased workload, long hours without sleep, information overload, stigmatization and fear of contracting the disease and the risk of infecting their immediate families. Studies from the UK and US by L. H. Nguyen et al (MedRxiv, 2020) indicate that frontline health care workers have over 11 times higher risk of infection with COVID-19 compared with the general population and those staff with inadequate PPEs had even higher risk. The limited availability of basic PPEs such as face shields, disposable surgical masks, respirators like N95 and gowns is a matter of grave concern.

Family doctors usually bear the brunt of the worldwide shortage of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs). Health care providers, at treatment centres usually have good safety equipment but family doctors at the frontline don’t have adequate PPEs despite the risk. We usually do not know the status of the patients we attend to during our initial encounter. However, the training of family doctors in communication skills, empathy, ability to handle most conditions at the primary care level and the ability to adapt to changes has equipped us to take up this enormous challenge of being at the forefront of a pandemic.

We however need support from government and well-meaning Ghanaians to help us sustain this task and to even do better. As a matter of urgency, government should ensure the availability of PPEs at ALL primary care centres across the country. SOFPOG is calling on government to continue its support for local industries involved in the manufacture of various PPEs in the country. Corporate organizations should continue to assist government by donating PPEs to help manage this pandemic.

As long as we are yet to develop a vaccine and find an effective treatment for COVID-19, this disease will be with us for a while as stated by the World Health Organisation (WHO). SOFPOG is therefore calling on ALL Ghanaians to follow all the preventive measures announced by government to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the population. Observation of these measures will minimize the rate of spread of the disease in our communities and hence reducing the risk of our health care system being overwhelmed.

The National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) should make adjustments to accept and pay for innovative services like telemedicine consultations aimed to reduce face-to-face contact with patients at our various Out Patients clinics.

As president of SOFPOG, I wish to congratulate all family doctors in Ghana for taking up this task in helping manage this deadly pandemic. You should stand proud of your achievements and let this laurel motivate you to do more for your patients and country. Together, we can build a very effective primary health care system in Ghana and together we can fight COVID-19. We are always the first in, last out. Long live SOFPOG, long live WONCA.

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