SPEECH DELIVERED BY COMRADE SAMMY GYAMFI, NATIONAL COMMUNICATION OFFICER OF THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS (NDC), AT THE 7TH EDITION OF THE NDC’S WEEKLY PRESS BRIEFING, HELD AT THE PARTY’S HEADQUARTERS ON MONDAY, 13TH JULY, 2020.
GHANA’S COVID-19 FIGHT FAILING; URGENT REMEDIAL ACTIONS NEEDED NOW.
Good morning distinguished friends from the media. Once again, I welcome you with gratitude to the Headquarters of the National Democratic Congress, as we continue to engage you on vital policy issues and other critical national conversations that border on the well-being of Ghanaians, as well as the development and forward-match of our dear Republic.
Today, we have invited you here to discuss the precarious COVID-19 situation that our nation presently finds itself in; where this all started and how we have arrived at this present juncture.
Indeed, our present COVID-19 situation, which clearly is getting worse by the day, calls for a deep and candid introspection and soul-searching by the nation. To do this, we must ask ourselves; What is Ghana’s current COVID-19 situation? Where are we now in the COVID-19 fight? Are we winning the fight? or is the deadly virus triumphing over us? And we intend to be honest and objective about these basic questions this morning.
Friends of the media, without mincing any words or making bones about this indisputable fact, Ghana is fast-losing the COVID-19 fight, due to the careless and directionless leadership of President Nana Addo Danquah Akufo Addo. And, I shall outline ten (10) facts that accurately describe our current COVID-19 situation and bear out this assertion.
Ladies and gentlemen of the media, as we speak:
- Ghana has recorded over 24,000 positive cases with 139 deaths, whiles the insensitive and inept Akufo Addo-government looks on helplessly.
Our astronomically high and ever-increasing positive case count is putting huge pressure on the already-constrained health system of the country. Indeed, many health facilities across the country, including the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital have been compelled to suspend other critical emergency health services due to the overwhelming cases of Coronavirus on their hands.
- Another fact that lays credence to the assertion that our COVID-19 fight is failing is that, the long-standing problem of lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our patriotic and hardworking health workers, who are sacrificing their lives to keep us safe, has not been addressed by President Akufo Addo and his government contrary to the countless and persistent assurances we have been given.
This has occasioned an alarming rate of COVID-19 infections among health workers, leading to the loss of several precious lives, including some renowned health experts. So far, over 779 health workers made up of 190 doctors, 410 nurses and midwives, 23 hospital pharmacists and 156 allied health workers, have caught the virus, with 10 deaths, while the insensitive Akufo Addo-government continues to pay lip service to this critical issue. This is sad and completely unacceptable.
- Also, the alarming COVID-19 infections among top NPP/government officials, some of whom have died, doesn’t inspire any confidence in the ordinary man on the street, that this fight is anywhere near being won.
As you may be aware, our Health Minister, Kwaku Agyemang Manu, the Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo-Maafo, the Forestry Commission CEO, Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie (may God bless his soul), the late Takoradi Mayor, another sad casuality, K.K Sam, the BOST MD, the NHIA Director-General and her Deputies, the Minister of Regional Re-organization, Dan Botwe, the Education Minister, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, The Ghana Education Service (GES) Director-General, the former deputy minister of Trade and Industry, Carlos Ahenkorah and the Volta Regional Minister, Archibald Yao Letsa, are but a few of the bigwigs on the tall list of Government Officials who have either battled, are battling or succumbed to COVID-19 in the last few months. This phenomenon clearly bears out our worsening COVID-19 situation.
- Again, the rising phenomenon of shutdown of key state institutions such as, COCOBOD, GNPC, BOST, NHIA, Ministry of Finance, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Education, the National Health Insurance Authority among several others, further accentuate the alarming rate of community spread of the novel coronavirus in the country and terrifying situation we presently find ourselves in.
Only God knows which other state institution is playing host to this deadly virus, and whether at this rate, the entire government machinery will not be brought down on its knees in the coming weeks.
- Furthermore, the significant reduction of testing and contact tracing being spearheaded by the failed Akufo Addo-government, is a major setback to our COVID-19 fight. Government’s refusal to pay contact tracers their meagre motivational allowances, despite Parliament making financial provision for same, has led to the complete abandonment of contact tracing, thereby letting loose the ravaging virus in our communities.
Also, our severely constrained testing capacity and shortage of test reagents and other vital supplies, which accounts for the huge backlog of samples waiting to be tested at both the Noguchi Center for Medical Research and the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research (KCCR), is further exacerbating our failing fight against the virus.
- Additionally, the lack of isolation facilities to contain our positive cases is very worrying. Currently, most of our hospitals and health facilities are full and overstretched, leading to the suspension of other critical emergency health services, while our ICUs are also getting full.
This situation that has led to an increase in self-isolation of positive cases is undermining our COVID-19 fight, as the evidence on voluntary self-isolation, show relatively low compliance to safety protocols as compared to mandatory isolation.
- Another serious problem confronting us, is the inadequacy of health personnel to manage COVID-19 cases, as was admitted by Dr. Nsiah Asare, Presidential Advisor on health in the media few weeks ago.
- Also, the inconsistent and doubtful data on our COVID-19 situation, leading to loss of public confidence is a major problem. The several instances of manipulation of data by government to create a false sense of security, instead of reporting the true facts as they pertain to our situation has gradually chipped away public confidence in government’s management of the pandemic.
- Lastly, the non-adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols by majority of Ghanaians, particularly by the ruling New Patriotic Party reflects the our failing fight against the pandemic.
Ladies and gentlemen, the ten (10) facts I have enumerated, accurately describe our current COVID-19 situation and show that our situation is increasingly worsening and getting dire as the days go by.
Indeed, international reputable organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), has been alarmed by our current situation, leading to their recent assessment of Ghana as one of the countries driving the spread of the virus in West Africa, whilst the European Union also recently placed Ghana among countries whose nationals have been given restricted access to the EU zone due to our terrifying COVID-19 situation.
As it is now, the center can no longer hold. Things appear to have fallen apart. Our health system and response plan have been completely overwhelmed by the pandemic. Our leaders, the President, his talkative Vice and our health minister, are no where to be found. No wonder the Minister of Health recently said that he and the President are tired of the COVID fight. How low we sunk!
Whilst other countries have stepped up their fight against the pandemic, we have taken our foot off the pedal, with our authorities almost but conceding defeat. But the biggest question is, why Ghana? How did we get here?
Distinguished friends from the media, since a problem well-stated is half-solved, permit me to enumerate ten (10) sins of President Akufo-Addo that have brought us here.
- Firstly, President Akufo Addo’s refusal to close our borders and airport, as well as adopt containment measures on time, is the main reason why we find ourselves in this severe and alarming COVID-19 malaise. This is grounded by the high number of imported cases that precipitated the astronomical community spread of the virus across the country, due to the lack of implementation of any proper containment measures right from the outset.
It would be recalled that President Akufo-Addo ignored all calls for him to close our borders and airport from health professionals, the NDC and other citizens, and rather went frolicking in Europe at a time the coronavirus was ravaging several European and western nations. In fact, you would recall that it was upon his return from that unproductive European tour, that one of our very first cases was recorded by a high-ranking diplomat, specifically the Norwegian Ambassador to Ghana, who was with the President’s in Norway.
- Secondly, government’s poor management of the Coronavirus Alleviation program, including misappropriation of relief funds, particularly free food and water distribution to the vulnerable, which led to a premature easing of lockdown restrictions on the basis of political reasons other than medical, epidemiological or any scientific considerations, further worsened our wobbly COVID-19 fight.
- Thirdly, government’s failure to adopt mass/community testing and to resolve our inefficient testing regime is part of the reasons why we find ourselves in this quagmire. In fact, the problem of delayed release of test results, as a result of lack of PCR test kits, reagents among others, still remains a major challenge.
- Also, the non-payment of contact tracers by the Akufo Addo-government, leading to strike actions by the poor workers who have placed their lives at risk and those of their families for our collective good. As I have already indicated, this is very unacceptable, as it betrays the lack of sensitivity, seriousness and candor in President Akufo-Addo’s promises, even in this time of coronavirus crises.
- Again, the deliberate misreporting and suppression of data on positive, death and recovered cases, by the Akufo Addo-government, thereby giving a false sense of security to the people has partly accounted for our failing COVID-19 fight.
- Furthermore, Akufo Addo’s failure to provide adequate PPEs to protect health workers, despite financial provision being made for same by Parliament has been one of the bane of our deplorable COVID-19 position.
The President of the Ghana Medical Association, Dr. Frank Ankobea and other allied medical unions have had occasion to lament government’s failure to provide basic PPE and how this has impacted negatively on our COVID fight, leading to loss of morale and medical personnel, as I have already indicated.
It is worthy to add, that President Akufo-Addo’s deliberate exclusion of several other health workers from the list of frontline health workers is demotivating a lot of our health workers who have been excluded from the list of frontline health workers. And this must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
- Additionally, Akufo Addo’s failure to establish adequate isolation centers for the management of positive cases has further exacerbated our worsening COVID-19 situation. This is a reflection of the general failure of President Akufo Addo to make any meaningful contribution to health infrastructure in Ghana, in the last three (3) and half years, despite being the most resourced President in Ghana’s history. This has cemented his place as a President who talks much and does very little.
- Again, Akufo Addo’s failure to ensure the observation of COVID-19 precautionary protocols during the NIA registration and card distribution exercises, the NPP Parliamentary primaries, as well as the ongoing new voter registration, despite several warnings from the Ghana Medical Association and other health professionals, is another major contributing factor to our failing COVID-19 fight.
This is very worrying, particularly given the fact that some Pastors and other citizens have been arrested, prosecuted and jailed for breaching the same COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. President Akufo Addo’s refusal to hold his own appointees and party members, such as Carlos Ahenkora to the same standard of discipline, has further exposed him as a man who preaches virtue and supervises vice.
The wanton disregard for COVID-19 protocols by government officials, which was again displayed at the recently-held confirmation of President Akufo-Addo as flag-bearer of the NPP, has set a bad tone for what has been a return to business as usual for members of the public and is undermining our already failing COVID-19 fight.
- More importantly, the premature reopening of Senior High Schools by President Akufo Addo without mass testing of students, teachers and workers, as well as a failure to put in place and enforce appropriate safety measures in the reopened schools, which is leading to the spread of the virus among SHS students is yet another major setback for our COVID-19 fight.
Today, it is sad and annoying to note, that apart from the disregard for COVID-19 safety protocols in our Senior High Schools, the schools have become centers for political campaigns by the NPP, as was seen over the weekend, when the National Youth Organizer of the NPP, Henry Nana Boakye led a team to campaign in some Senior High Schools in the Ashanti region.
Ladies and gentlemen of the media, is it not cruel, that at a time over 10 of the reopened Senior High Schools have recorded infections on their campuses, and parents have been prevented from visiting their wards as a so-called COVID-19 precautionary measure, President Akufo Addo has opened the same schools, for his party NPP and the Electoral Commission, who prioritizes political power than human lives, to go in there and engage in political activities which have the tendency to endanger the lives of our innocent SHS students.
This show of total disregard for the lives of our innocent SHS children by President Akufo Addo is unconscionable and reprehensible to say the least, and must he condemned by all voices of conscience.
- Finally, government’s review of our recovery and discharge policy from two (2) mandatory tests to zero (0) as a result of the lack of test kits, isolation facilities, among others, is partly responsible for our ever-worsening situation.
We hold the view, that the new recovery and discharge policy under which persons who have tested positive for the virus are declared as recovered and discharged when they become asymptomatic without any confirmatory tests, is very dangerous, and has the potential to further jeopardize our already-failing COVID-19 fight.
It must be noted that although the risk or degree of the spread of the virus by asymptomatic persons is relatively lower as compared to persons showing symptoms, it cannot be said that there is absolutely no risk or possibility that asymptomatic cases can spread the virus. In other words, fact that the WHO has said that asymptomatic cases are less likely to pass the virus on than symptomatic cases does not mean that asymptomatic individuals cannot spread the virus as has been suggested in Ghana. Indeed, the WHO has acknowledged that, there is a “minimal residual risk” that patients discharged under their new policy may still be infectious and this must inform our adoption and implementation of the new policy in Ghana.
Even more bizarre, ladies and gentlemen, is the conflicting signals government is communicating to the public on this matter. Whereas, government has told the public that we have reviewed our recovery and discharge policy from two (2) mandatory and confirmatory tests to zero, the same government few days ago informed us that one of the appointees of President Akufo Addo who contracted the virus, Carlos Ahenkora, has recovered, after testing negative in two consecutive confirmatory tests.
The question we would want to ask is that, if the new recovery and discharge policy under which asymptomatic persons are discharged without any confirmatory tests is good, then why was Carlos Ahenkora made to undertake two (2) confirmatory tests before he was declared as having recovered? What is government hiding from the nation? Don’t they believe in their own recovery and discharge policy? On what basis are they determining who deserves confirmatory tests and who doesn’t? Why does Carlos Ahenkora deserve two confirmatory tests, but the ordinary Ghanaian who has contracted the virus don’t deserve same? Is it because the Akufo Addo government values the lives of their officials over the lives of ordinary Ghanaians?
Friends from the media, this lack of consistency in the application of government’s new recovery and discharge policy, casts serious doubts about its validity and viability and shows that same cannot be relied upon by the nation if we are serious about the COVID-19 fight.
In addition to above-enumerated points, the crass intolerance and headstrong refusal of the Akufo-Addo government to heed good counsel is also a major cause of our worsening COVID-19 situation. Whereas foreign embassies saw what the NDC was seeing from the outset and moved to evacuate their nationals months ago, President Akufo-Addo and his men were busy pursuing political expediency, the reason why we are here.
In short, ladies and gentlemen of the media, Ghana finds herself in this quagmire because of the sloppy and clueless leadership, as well as the politically-driven decisions of President Akufo-Addo.
THE WAY FORWARD
Distinguished friends from the media, the NDC reckons that our current situation calls for decisive and forthright leadership to stem the tide of the marauding virus which now threatens all of us. This is not the time for weak and tired loins, as the Health Minister and President Akufo-Addo have developed, neither is it time to place politically-driven decision ahead of public health.
Clearly, our national response plan and strategy have failed, and we need to re-strategize and take some critical remedial actions to salvage our failing fight, as a matter of urgency.
The NDC therefore demands that the Akufo-Addo government adopts and implement the following far-reaching measures to protect Ghanaian lives.
First, we demand the immediate closure of all reopened schools which were hurriedly reopened under the guise of facilitating the writing of WASSCE, just to make room for the Electoral Commission to register SHS students on their school campuses. The Ghanaian Times newspaper reports today, that ten (10) more Senior High Schools have recorded cases of COVID-19. As we speak, Nigeria, a major participant in the WASSCE exam has rescinded its decision to reopen schools, while Kenya has also decided to close schools until 2021. We urge President Akufo-Addo to prioritize human lives over electoral fancies.
Also, we call on all and sundry to condemn the action of the National Youth Organizer of the NPP, Henry Nana Boakye for leading the shameful agenda of making SHS their hotbed of political activity during these perilous times. We further demand that in consonance with GES regulations, the Headmaster of that Senior High School in Kumasi should be interdicted immediately in order to serve the ends of justice.
Secondly, we demand that government deals urgently with high infection rate among health professionals by providing the required type and number of PPE for health workers. As a matter of fact, government must heed to calls to revise its narrow conceptualization of frontline health workers, and immediately provide the required PPEs to aid our gallant health workers in combating this virus. Let me add, that the need for the adequate provision of PPE for health workers must be situated within the work of a bipartisan committee, because we can no longer allow them to get infected and die when money has been voted for that purpose by our representatives in Parliament.
Thirdly, government must review the new discharge and recovery policy that allows the discharge of people with positive cases after just one test. Much as government may be in a hurry to make our picture look good, a further worsening of this situation will completely overrun our health system, hence the need to tread cautiously. The new policy which appears to be shoring up or recovery cases is creating a false sense of security amongst the people. And, our implementation of same against the caution of the WHO that there is a “minimal residual risk” that patients discharged under their new policy may still be infectious, has the tendency to jeopardize further our failing fight.
Also, we call for the immediate adoption of mass and efficient testing regime to be able to go after the virus. Our current reactionary approach to the virus is actually what is precipitating its further rapid spread. Apart from the absence of testing, the time lag between when tests are conducted and when the results are ready gives room for the virus to spread inadvertently to those who hitherto did not have it.
We further demand the establishment of more isolation centers by the Akufo Addo government to effectively manage our rising number of positive cases. The current situation where people who have been confirmed positive are let loose due to lack of facilities to accommodate them is unacceptable.
Government must also enhance its contact tracing by paying all outstanding allowances due contact tracers in order to motivate them to work hard. The virus has obviously overtaken us, and if we must get ahead of it, then we ought to run faster, and be proactive.
Additionally, we demand that government intensifies public awareness – through mass, purposeful and deliberate public education. This will further awaken all of us to the reality of the virus which has become a clear and present danger with us.
Last, but not least, government must ensure accountability in the expenditure of COVID-19 funds. There is the need for a special and forensic audit into all already expended COVID-19 funds, as a matter of urgency.
Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot end by urging government to reduce fuel prices, instead of the recent consistent increments at a time crude prices have plummeted on the world market. The need to reduce fuel prices comes at a time government has directed all commercial drivers to reduce the number of passengers they take in line with social distancing protocols. This has drastically reduced the incomes of transport owners who are still being asked to pay more for fuel. This is unacceptable, and prices must go down immediately.
We urge all Ghanaians to hold the Akufo-addo Government accountable for its handling of this pandemic. All over the world, countries are still battling and re-strategizing against what looks like a continuous wave of the virus. Ghana alone cannot let down our guard for the sake of Akufo Addo’s quest for political power. Ghana deserves better!
Thank you for your attention.