Is Ebola A Test For Ghana’s Healthcare System?

Ghanaians are visibly scared as the Ebola virus rapidly inches closer to us and the question on the minds of many is ‘Is Ghana battle ready to protect its citizens from this deadly incurable virus?” Neighbouring West African countries are under siege from Ebola. Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and now Nigeria have been hit and hundreds of lives have been lost. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 1,201 suspected cases with 672 deaths have been reported as of 23 July, 2014. A sense of insecurity and suspicion has washed over residents in these affected countries and the remaining Ebola free West African nations are on the alert. Stringent measures are being put in place to curb the further spread of the virus like the banning of football, the closure of schools, the halting of flights to affected countries and the closing of borders all aimed at containing the disease. But how prepared is Ghana? There have been about three suspected cases of Ebola reported in Ghana; two in Kumasi and one in Accra. On all occasions, Ghanaians freaked out at the news and social media was full of pleas from citizens asking government to do something before we all die. But immediately the tests proved negative, we returned to our lives. The closest we came to being concerned was when the international news channels reported worsening conditions in the countries that have been hit. All we did was to sympathize, and prayed Ghana was spared. We may not be as lucky as we were with SARS, Swine flu and the others. God loves Ghana, yes, but prayers alone may not cut it. But then, Nigeria joined the list of affected countries. Yes, our own brothers! And once again, Ghanaians are all apprehensive about the disease and calls on government has heightened. Now, there is a widespread fear that authorities may not be able to contain the disease because it has so far been unable to prevent the cyclical cholera epidemic in Ghana. Even the Ghana Medical Association seems to have lost hope in the country’s health system to fight the disease. The Ministry of Health has promised it is on top of the situation. Indeed government has set up an inter-ministerial team to work on the almost pandemic disease. Though I believe government is concerned about the situation and therefore making efforts to protect Ghanaians, but when will we see signs of the inter-ministerial team’s work? Ebola could be in Ghana today! Perhaps, some people are already incubating the virus as the microbe could stay in his host for about 21 days before manifesting, by which time a few more people would have been infected. A few weeks ago, there were reported cholera cases but as the days roll by, more people are contracting the disease and the death toll is gradually rising. Health facilities in the capital are overwhelmed with cholera cases as the facilities are overstretched to cater for affected patients. Out Patient Departments (OPDs) have been designated for cholera cases. Which other spaces in our hospitals will be designated for Ebola if it comes upon us? How many people are aware of the causes and symptoms of the Ebola disease? How many villages and towns at Ghana’s various entry points have health personnel and equipment on the standby to cater for any suspected case of Ebola? The Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) has disclosed that not only does its personnel lack knowledge about the virus, they also do not have the requisite protective gear to protect themselves for this new rle. Simply put, they are clueless about what to do if they encounter an infected person. Ghana, as we have come to know over the years, is a ‘wait and see’ nation, very reactive and rarely proactive. We are all aware that the government is working on a tight budget due to challenges with the economy but if Ebola were a priority, quarantine centres would have been set up right after suspected cases were reportedly recorded in Ghana although tests proved otherwise; health officials and trained volunteers would have been resourced to visit communities, schools, markets, public places and homes to sensitize the ‘ordinary Ghanaian’ on this life threatening disease; border officials would have been trained and equipped with screening equipment for early detection of the disease on travellers. Even the privileged ones who have access to television, radio and internet are failing to read about the disease and educate others as well. Sadly, the media has also failed to undertake its core responsibility to educate and inform. How many media houses have allocated a segment on their TV or radio show or even a column in their newspapers or websites to extensively inform Ghanaians about the Ebola virus? News on the disease is just reported and it ends at that. We have adopted the ‘wait and see’ attitude and silently hoping that the unmerciful Ebola virus will pass over our doorstep leaving us unharmed. Let us wake up to reality and stop wishing God will protect us. Let us make our health our responsibility. Take charge of your life, keep your surroundings clean, make the effort to educate yourself on cholera and Ebola and in the end, you will live long. What you need to know about the Ebola Virus (WHO) Key Facts Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%. EVD outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals. Signs and symptoms EVD is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes. People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. Ebola virus was isolated from semen 61 days after onset of illness in a man who was infected in a laboratory. The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days.