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Opinions of Saturday, 25 April 2020

Columnist: Nana Bampoe

Data and social mobilisation to defeat Coronavirus


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Since Ghana lifted the mandatory stay at home restrictions (19th April 2020) experts and commentators have provided critical perspectives on the President’s claim that “…our next course of action, again, is backed by data and by science”.

The importance of data integrity and utilization is key to data-driven humanitarian response management. This is more critical since data reinforces the science behind the critical behavior change that Ghana requires to defeat coronavirus.

Scientifically derived decisions backed by the data is significant progress for our nation. Despite this, it seems that the government’s confidence in the public adhering to restriction was not shared by many. This was the trending concern on social media in the immediate aftermath of the decision.

The government gave evidence to support 5 key decision factors, namely: economic considerations, improved local capacities, good progress, surge readiness, and alternative limitations. In the mind of the ordinary Ghanaian, this claim contends with 6-fold increase in infections, 4-fold in the geographic spread and 80% in fatalities (19th April 2020).

On the face value, these figures do not translate into the President's assertion of “…modest successes chalked at containing the spread of the virus in Accra and Kumasi”. No wonder the evidence was subjected to such public scrutiny. This type of presentation may be suitable for boardroom decisions but less valuable in influencing changes in belief systems. This is key to saving lives and defeating the virus.

Data driven, evidence-based social mobilisation is necessary to cultivate sustainable ownership of the required changes Ghanaians need to commit to. Positive change in our attitudes and belief systems at all levels of the population is essential.

For instance, consider the progress in genome sequencing and the deeper insight gained as Africa’s number 1 country in testing per population density. A brief, informative and captivating mapping of the current trajectory of the virus to the affected communities, potential routes of infection, treatment, and isolation locations would help infuse confidence in the population.

Data science exists to help make sense of the massive amount of data that we generate, and produce simple visual communications. Why not use it to influence faster behaviour change and local ownership?

The science behind the progress indicators related in the President’s speech may be lost within days due to the amount of information that the average person is confronted with each day. Meanwhile, this huge achievement could kick start support and confidence in Ghana’s response direction. I see missed opportunities – a regrettable but familiar trait in Africa. The Government needs to appreciate that data tells the story best in a layman’s language.

I suggest the government deepens and expand the social mobilisation and community engagement pillar of the response management. Effective intervention should be results-based, with clear indicators for outputs, outcomes, and impacts against a realistic timeline.

Conclusion:

We are in this together. Whilst the government, backed by capable stakeholders, is demonstrating pacesetting leadership within the subregion, we need to assist the government maximize efficiency. Citizen ownership of a positive behaviour change process is a desired goal that should be pursed.

Author - Nana Bampoe (Development Consultant & Data Scientist)

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