As the cases of COVID-19 hike in Ghana, a Catholic Bishop in the West African country says for the country to make progress in the fight against the pandemic, it is necessary that authorities seek professional advice and stakeholder engagement in making key decisions.
In an interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Emmanuel Kofi Fianu, the Episcopal Chairman for Health Commission of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) cautioned the country’s government against politicizing the fight against COVID-19 and called for inclusion in facing the pandemic.
“Government needs to listen to our epidemiologists and the medical specialists in general. We should not politicize decisions or the steps we take to face the pandemic,” Bishop Fianu told ACI Africa in the Monday, February 22 interview.
There have been calls on the Ghanaian government to consider closing down basic schools to contain the spread of COVID-19, as some schools have reportedly recorded the coronavirus cases since schools reopened on January 15 after nearly 10 months of closure due to the pandemic.
The Anglican Bishop of Koforidua in the Eastern Region of Ghana, Rev. Felix Annan has specifically stated that closure of schools will guarantee children safety.
“Since some schools had recorded COVID-19 cases, closing the basic schools down now, would reduce the spread as well as protect the children,” the Anglican Bishop said.
But in the interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Fianu expressed optimism that there had been consultations between the government and relevant stakeholders including parents, medical experts, and the Ghana Education Service before arriving at the decision to reopen schools in the country.
“What is of concern to me is reports by civil society organizations that the protective measures promised by the government for the schools are not available on the ground. If this is true, then we are putting the lives of some of our children at risk,” the Catholic Bishop said.
The Director General of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, on February 2 announced that Ghana has recorded 142 COVID-19 cases in middle and high schools since their reopening last month.
A total of 56 cases were confirmed in 23 schools in the Greater Accra Region, 82 cases comprising 73 students and nine staff members in the Eastern Region, three cases in the Upper West Region, and one case in the Western Region, the Director General said at a press conference.
As of February 22, Ghana had recorded 6,658 cases of COVID -19.
In the interview with ACI Africa, the Local Ordinary of Ghana’s Ho Diocese said that news of infection of children in schools was worrying, saying “Government will have to weigh the risks at hand as against an apparent desire to return to a form of normalcy.”
“It is true that life must go on despite the pandemic or we must learn to live with the pandemic in what we call a new normal but that must be done with a lot of prudence so as not to put lives at risk. Every life counts and must be protected,” Bishop Fianu said.
He added, “Rumours that the figures being published are doctored do not build confidence among the population. We all need to intensify the necessary education of the population to understand the situation before us and to appreciate the need to follow strictly the protocols in place.”
“It is not good to live in denial of the pandemic,” the Bishop further said, and added, “If one of us is not protected, we put all others at risk. I would not call for a national prayer or crusade in which crowds will gather at the same place.”
Reacting to a possible lockdown, the member of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) said, “A total lockdown at any point in time would have to be informed by our health experts. Whatever be the case, we have to know that any form of lockdown affects the vulnerable of our society.”
He underscored the need for the government to put in measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus while ensuring that the needs of the poor and other vulnerable groups were met.
He lauded the Ghanaian government for distributing meals to some of the vulnerable during the country’s first lockdown, and urged relevant authorities in the West African nation to ensure that strict measures to stop the virus are adhered to at food distribution points in future.
“During the last partial lockdown, the government was distributing hot meals to some of the vulnerable, an action that was good in itself, but it gave room for people to leave home and queue at the distribution points,” the Bishop recalled and added, “In effect if any of them was infected, he/she ended up infecting others as well.”
According to the 63-year-old Bishop who has been at the helm of Ho Diocese since his episcopal ordination in October 2015, the death of some prominent Ghanaians and reports about their infection is an indication that the pandemic is real and no one is singularly safe.
He said, “It must be a collective effort if we are to stay safe. I believe these prominent people followed the protocols but those they interacted with did not and so they were infected.”
“The fact that we are hearing of the infection of prominent people is also a sign that we are moving away from stigmatization so that we can handle the pandemic better,” Bishop Fianu told ACI Africa February 22.