The acting Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, has emphasised that evacuating Ghanaian students in Wuhan, China, where the COVID 19 (coronavirus) started is not advisable.
He said stakeholders in Ghana and beyond had described that move as counter-productive.
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That, he said, was because China had a better capacity than Ghana in dealing with the disease in terms of prevention, management and treatment.
Providing the media with updates on the national surveillance programme at a media engagement in Accra yesterday, Dr Kuma-Aboagye said no Ghanaian had been affected or was in danger, noting that the government was monitoring the situation closely and was ready to evacuate Ghanaians without hesitation, once that became necessary.
He said the government’s health and international affairs officials were in constant discussions with national and international stakeholders, particularly the Chinese government and the World Health Organisation (WHO), to ensure that the students were safe and comfortable.
He reassured the public and people with family members among the students that they had no reason to worry at all because the government had the situation under control and strict monitoring.
“We’ve taken China’s word to ensure the safety of our students there, but we are not being complacent at all, nor will we sit aloof. We are watching and in contact with those students all the time to ensure that nothing goes wrong,” he said.
Dr Kuma-Aboagye appealed to Ghanaians to continue to have confidence in the country’s surveillance measures, which he said had been put on red alert, with all necessary measures activated.
“We have recorded 15 suspected cases that have proved negative, and the way health professionals handled the cases showed how ready we are as a country to prevent an export of the disease,” he said.
Prevention is key
In a detailed presentation on the global and national issue at the meeting, the Director of Public Health at the GHS, Dr Ebenezer Badu-Sarkodie, called on the public to imbibe basic hygienic practices to help prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.
He explained that adhering to basic hygienic practices, such as avoiding coughing on people and not allowing people to cough on you, frequent washing of hands with soap under running water and using 60 per cent alcohol content sanitisers or hand scrubs, had become critical to prevention because the highly contagious and airborne disease currently had no vaccine or medication.
He said observing hygienic practices was key because the virus, although airborne, did not survive beyond 24 hours in the atmosphere, adding: “Therefore, avoiding contact with the virus is key.”
The public was also cautioned against touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands because the virus could be picked in case of contact with a sick person or potentially affected surfaces or objects.
Following the announcement of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China in December 2019 and a declaration of the situation as a public health emergency, the Ministry of Health had announced that it had put on red alert national disease surveillance.
It said that included the designation of key medical facilities, such as the Greater Accra Regional Hospital and the Tema General Hospital, as initial case management centres, and later named the Police Hospital and all teaching hospitals in the country as cases management centres.
The Ministry of Health also extended enhanced screening at the airport and all other points of entry to all international arrivals and this is being done with more sophisticated technology, such as checking for fever with walk-through thermal thermometers, with further checks with the non-contact gun-like thermometers.
Evacuate our children
Meanwhile, the parents of about 400 Ghanaian students stuck in the Chinese city of Wuhan have appealed to the government to evacuate the students as soon as possible.
They said the government could at least evacuate them to a different province in China, if not back home, as several dormitories in universities in Wuhan were being converted to wards for coronavirus patients with mild symptoms.
A spokesperson for the parents of Ghanaian students in Wuhan, Mr Daniel Nii Lartey, told the Daily Graphic that the government must act swiftly to airlift the students home.
He expressed fear that dormitories at the Wuhan Business University, which was close to where some Ghanaian students lived, were being turned into wards for coronavirus patients.
He said the $250,000 committed by the government to procure some valuable items for the students could not be traded for their safety.
“We are talking about the suffering, emotional trauma and the safety of Ghanaian students in a foreign country,” Mr Lartey stressed, adding: “The money is for food and sanitary items, but we are not sure whether those delivering items to the students were infected or not,” he added.
He suggested that if it was the fear of infection that was holding the government back from evacuating the students, then they could be quarantined once they arrive back home to ensure that they were cleared before being integrated into society.
At the moment, there are no plans by Ghana to get its citizens out of China. The WHO warned last month that the virus could overwhelm public health systems on the African continent.
Governments globally are grappling with the challenge of how to get their citizens out of China’s Hubei province, where 60 million residents now live under a virtual lock-down.
The African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has appealed to African countries to allow their citizens to return home from China.
So far, several countries, including Uganda and Kenya, have officially rejected calls to evacuate their citizens from China.
The new strain of coronavirus is spreading around the world after originating at a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, with a reported outbreak in December 2019.
The virus started spreading from animals to humans and now human-to-human transmissions are taking place.
As of yesterday, over 60,328 cases had been reported globally, with a death toll of 1,368.
Currently, 28,280 cases have been confirmed, with 565 deaths globally.
After its last meeting on January 22, the WHO recommended that people should take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the virus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.