COVID-19 has really changed our lives in Ghana.
My name is Rhoda Owusu Ntim.
I am a microbiologist and a trained youth advocate under the Youth Leaders for Health Program. I advocate frequently for health systems strengthening in Ghana especially in my community, Yaw Nkrumah. in the Juabeng District of the Ashanti Region of Ghana.
In my community, with each passing day, I observe mental shifts as I communicate with others.
I decided to design a qualitative assessment through Question and Answer sessions in order to better understand the effects of COVID-19 on how we think, our perceptions, our hopes and our despair.
My Question and Answer session was with 30 community friends, colleagues and people I hadn’t even met before. There were 20 youth and the others were made up of health workers, farmers, market women, barbers and hairdressers. I used both telephone conversations and face to face interactions.
I had to ensure my respondents sat/stood at least 2 meters away from me in line with national directives.
How advocacy has changed.
Gone are the days when we spoke freely, close to each other without the need to shout through a mask and sit uncomfortably far away.
The outcomes of my conversations were revealing.
One of the respondents, a pharmacist, remarked:
“The demand for emergency contraceptives and malaria drugs is on the increase”. Most customers have no prescription.
A clearly frustrated market woman shouted:
“Madam, No-one is buying my provisions, no sales. I return home each day with next to nothing. I am afraid of what may happen if this continues
A 14 year old boy happily said:
“Auntie, there is no school and it is good. But I wash my hands a lot these days.
Most of the people I spoke to mentioned they had been over-sleeping and engaging in poor eating habits; during the prolonged hours spent at home due to the lockdown they ended up eating and sleeping more than usual.
There was hardly any vigorous physical activity. The health implications cannot be underestimated. Obesity is a possible health outcome of this behavior over a prolonged time.
In the case of malaria, some respondents were buying antimalarial drugs from chemical sellers and pharmacies without carrying out any lab tests and they avoided hospitals all together.
There are many documented health problems linked with self-medication without prescriptions especially in treating malaria.
A school of thought might argue that there is nothing wrong with high demand for antimalarials and contraceptives since they are protective measures but the negative effects of these drugs such as abdominal pain, headaches and so on are worrying.
Plus the fact that with no lab tests to determine whether the malaria parasites are in the blood, we could end up with misdiagnosis and negative consequences.
You can imagine also that the data capturing of malaria cases at the health facilities will hardly be accurate in these COVID-19 days.
Other respondents commented that the fear and stigma associated with COVID-19 makes them reluctant to go to hospital even when a family member is sick because they see health facilities as high-risk environments. So ineffective home remedies are used over and over again.
The community conversations also showed that some were going through psychological challenges such as anxiety, depression and forgetfulness.
During the question and answer sessions, I used the opportunity to advocate for better health practices through advising and encouraging respondents to exercise regularly, have enough rest, a positive mind and maintaining good personal and environmental hygiene.
Vulnerabilities brought about by malaria, HIV, TB and malnutrition make susceptibility to COVID-19 higher.
After a month, I plan to repeat my Question and Answer sessions to determine whether there have been shifts in thinking with a decreased sense of hopelessness.
After this COVID-19 experience, I am more convinced that it is now time for African governments to push through and prioritize policies and programs for strengthening health systems. We need resilient systems that can withstand public health threats.
We all have a part to play, especially as advocates for health.
The Youth Leaders for Health Program is a joint initiative being implemented in Ghana by Hope for Future Generations together with RESULTS UK, WACI Health, CISMAT-SL (Sierra Leone), and Health Promotion Tanzania- HDT with support from Comic Relief.
We advocate for health systems strengthening as well as increased domestic resources for malaria eradication.
By: Rhoda Owusu Ntim, BSc: Biological Sciences