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Opinions of Monday, 4 May 2020

Columnist: Michael A. Horlorku, Contributor

Covid-19: The opportunity game changer

Covid-19 is the new game changer with huge challenges and opportunities. We can dwell on its demonic worldwide havoc-wreaking infections, deaths, disruption of the “normal” social, economic, civil, democratic life; or we can welcome the huge opportunities it has brought the world and embrace it as the “new world order”.

Indeed, these are no ordinary times for the entire world and, definitely, not for Ghana or Africa for that matter. The immediate global challenge is hinged on survival, staying healthy and free off the virus, while striving to maintain minimal fatalities regarding those who may contract the serious form of the disease; all within the environment of complex political, economic, social, technological, legal and ethical considerations.

Whatever the case, one thing is certain – Covid-19 has brought change. Just a few days ago, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, announced plans to build 94 hospitals in the country, to be completed within a year! This comes at the heels of high profile recognition of the creativity of some illustrious Ghanaian individuals and institutions e.g.

. Solar-panelled handsfree hand washing machine,

. Locally-manufactured prototype ventilators,

. Locally produced PPEs, Masks, Handsanitzers,

. Innovative Covid-19 testing kits with faster results times etc.

Impressively, the President announced the commercial production and delivery of some of these items in the fight against Covid-19 in Ghana.

So what changed? Have Ghanaians suddenly become talented, clever, creative, innovative, and intelligent?

The answer, in my opinion, is an emphatic NO! Ghanaians have always been smart in any imaginable sphere of life.

What has actually changed is the attitude of our leaders, politicians, policy and decision makers who are mostly compelled by sense of self-preservation. These same people and their family members used to hop on the fastest flights to Europe (mostly London), USA, China, India, for medical treatment for illnesses at the taxpayer’s expense, complete with per diem. Sadly, Covid-19, having taken root in those countries, has ensured that this health tourism option is firmly shut and, suddenly, there is nowhere to run.

For many decades, our leaders have ignored attempts to invest in research and development in the country, actively recognise and support local talent, engage in meaningful development of the health and education systems, infrastructure and other social amenities - a situation the President described as “years of underinvestment and neglect” when pitching for his new hospitals building plan.

Covid-19 has turned the table upside down! The preference for foreign travel and treatment option has disappeared. Ghana has become safer than Europe, Asia, USA (at least for now) from where harrowing tales of infections and fatalities flood our TV screens. Covid-19 has exposed the developed countries’ inability to produce or provide basic PPEs, lifesaving medical equipment, facemasks, etc for the protection of their citizens, health workers and other essential workers, and the general public. It has also exposed the endemic systemic failures that hamper decisive decision-making, consequently impacting the lives of the citizens.

On the other hand, Covid-19 has presented Ghana with a golden opportunity to take centre stage at the African and World stage.

. Ghana has demonstrated creativity and innovation in the face of the global pandemic crisis. This momentum can be carried into renegotiating her relationship with the rest of the world.

. Ghana must now go beyond the rhetoric “Beyond Aid”. Instead of going with cup-in-hand to international organisations for aid to tackle Covid-19, she must actively persuade the world to invest in Ghana for their own survival. The country is safe and ripe for foreign investment; it has a pool of talented and vibrant young population; it has a functional democratic system; it is welcoming; it has fantastic climate and it is a major continental business and financial hob.

Of course, there needs to be in place sustainable attitudinal overhaul, functional systems and infrastructure of international appeal and patronage.

With proper planning, finance and resources, Ghana should be in a position to produce and export to other developed nations (including, USA, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany) PPEs, lifesaving medical equipment, face masks etc while rivalling other advanced countries with the advantage of innovation and cost-effectiveness.

If the predictions of the virologists, scientists, medical experts are anything to go by, then we are in with Covid-19 for the long haul. Let us seize the opportunity now!