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Opinions of Sunday, 28 June 2020

Columnist: Philip Tengzu

Coronavirus : Behaviour change and hygiene practices would reduce infections level

The coronavirus pandemic continues to chronicle the discussions on the lips of Ghanaians since the outbreak in Ghana. The political commentaries and debate do appear to be an ending. Ghanaians must be mindful that the virus has caused a lot of deaths across cities, countries, and all divides of our life.

We must put the politics aside and embrace the pandemic as a collective sense with a high sense of nationalistic tendencies and the spirit of we feeling.

In the space of 60 days, Ghana's case count now stands at 5,735 with 1,765 recoveries and 29 deaths. The recent increase in the case of recoveries is good for Ghana’s in tackling the pandemic.

We must commend ourselves as a country that is doing considerably well in the fight against the pandemic.

The closure of the borders, rigorous testing with only two initial testing centers, KCCI and Nuguche, the partial lockdown of epicenters of Tema, Accra, and Kumasi, and nationwide compliance on handwashing and adherence to other precautionary measures issued by GHS/ WHO has been critical in the reducing the infection.

Despite the significant gains in the fight against COVID- 19, the astronomical increase in case count is worrying. The Ghana Health Service indicated, ‘the cases are increasing because they are doing rigorous testing and contact tracing'.

Although it has been the best approach, we must appreciate the fact that if the route of transmission is not tackled, contact tracing will be an unending activity and testing will also continue unabated.

The biggest challenge contributing to the continuous increase in the number of cases is our inability to quarantine suspected persons during contact tracing, inadequate isolation, and quarantine centers or support systems for people who are not capable of doing effective self-isolation.

For example, the recent 1000+ cases recorded in Obuasi mines could have been avoided if the first infected person identified early and isolated or quarantined away from the rest. We would not have been recording these cases in the Obuasi enclave.

Many Ghanaian are still divided over the government's decision to lift the partial lockdown.

While others feel the lockdown even though it had its impact on the lives and businesses, it was better to have it imposed until total control, the government on its part feels 'science and data' suggest things were under control.

The lifting of the ban whether for political or whatever reason is indeed concerned. Many Ghanaians especially those who survive daily saw the lifting of the partial restrictions as going back to their normal life activities escalating to infections.

Lifting of the ban has made people underestimate the precautions stipulated by WHO and Ghana Health services and wants to live a normal life in these unusual times.

Viral Diseases such HIV and AIDS came as a global pandemic and we are here with it, many health experts have predicted that COVID- 19 has come to stay even if a cure is found, it will take time to eliminate it from the surface of the earth.

Research has shown that proper personal hygiene has helped in a drastic reduction in communicable diseases such as cholera and many other related diseases. Experts have it that proper handwashing with soap under running water is one key way of preventing covid19 infection coupled with social/physical distancing.

This has led to the increase in demand for Veronica bucket and other hand washing related tools, the handwashing precaution has also triggered the innovation drive where various artisans and organisations coming out with various types of handwashing facilities which are very good for the country's WASH sector.

These innovations have become resources that should propel the national behavioral change drive through adopting a positive attitude, personal and organization hygiene.

Ironically, Ghanaians see the handwashing precautionary measures as the first time, organisations such as UNICEF Ghana, WaterAid Ghana, World Vision International, and other sanitation-related organizations in partnership with Government of Ghana have invested a lot of money in the area of handwashing practice as a behaviour change concept for all persons in our various communities especially those in the rural areas under various national sanitation more especially Community-Led Total Sanitation otherwise known as CLTS.

As a country, especially the Ministry of Sanitation must coordinate and harmonize the various handwashing facility innovations across the country and communicate the most appropriate ones as standard handwashing facilities for various category of the population; the middle, lower and the rural poor as a guide, otherwise most of the existing facilities being used by the public have the high potential of recontamination and will not serve the purpose.

There must be a national and concerted effort to influence a sustained behaviour change in the area of proper handwashing with soap under running water, personal hygiene, and Environmental Health Sanitation.

This has become very important and necessary at a time that coronavirus is said to be found in the stool of infected persons, in an era where open defecation is a norm, then can we imagine the danger the population is faced with?

As we plan to reopen schools what measures are we put in place to ensure school children and students generally practice and observe proper handwashing with soap under running water to ensure their safety in school and at home?

Sustained behavior change has become the most significant step to preventing COVID-19 and many other communicable diseases through a coordinated effort by all stakeholders who matter in disease prevention.

We must continue to wash our hands with soap under running water most frequently with or without covid19 to stay alive and safe.