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How safe is the Ebola relief hub from the epidemic?

President John Mahama agreed to allow Ghana to be used as the logistics base for the international fight against Ebola following a phone call from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.
This is a commendable effort which will see relief items and personnel flown from various countries consolidated in Ghana before they are flown to the affected countries.
Ban Ki Moon’s reasons behind his decision to impress upon Ghana to serve as the hub might not be far-fetched, because history has etched Ghana’s de facto leadership presence in the sub-region in gold.
Ghana plays leading role in Africa
Having gained independence first in sub-Saharan Africa, it was Ghana’s first president Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who led the African revolutionary dream aimed at decolonizing the continent thereby leading to liberation struggles across the board.
I dare say that had Dr. Nkrumah been alive in these Ebola times, he would have done what President Mahama has done or even more.
I find it comfortable to say this because Dr. Nkrumah built such a selfless leadership regime aimed at using Ghana’s independence as a springboard for the total liberation and unity of all African countries. Dr. Nkrumah went to the extent of doling out £10m to Guinea when they rebelled against France in their yearning for independence, leading to France starving Guinea of financial support.
When he was overthrown in 1966, Dr. Nkrumah lived in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, and was announced as an honorary co-president with then ideological comrade, Ahmed Sekou Toure. This baffled the world of politics because it was unprecedented.
Let’s not also forget that before Dr. Nkrumah and other African leaders formed the Organization of African Unity(OAU) now Africa Union (AU), the then Ghanaian leader first helped form the Union of African States, made of Ghana, Guinea and Mali in 1963 – an ideological triumvirate which did not stand the test of times. Mali also became beneficiaries of half that amount when the country’s economy needed a lift.
This was a further testament of how closely-knit a relationship Ghana had with Guinea. Fast-forward to today and Nkrumah would have treated the oppression of Ebola like helping the affected countries break free from from the shackles of neocolonialism in the days of old. Ghana’s president is the current Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) chairman and could not stay aloof, but the way and manner countries far and near have cut trade, communication and diplomatic links with affected countries lends mighty credence to Ghana’s unwavering bravado and unselfishness.
Cote d’Ivoire, which is comparatively closer geographically to the three worst-hit countries compared to Ghana and could have played bigger strategic roles of protecting their borders, banned flights to and from affected countries from August till October.
Flight and visa bans
Before Nigeria was declared Ebola-free, Chad had suspended all flights from Africa’s current biggest economy. Pan-African airlines Aruj and ASKY suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone following the death of a Liberian passenger at the end of July in the Nigerian city of Lagos. British Airways on August 5 suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone following concerns about the spread of Ebola.
Dubai’s Emirates Airline said earlier this month it was suspending flights to Guinea. Australia and Canada have all taken turns to ban the issuing of visas to people coming from these countries. This prompted sharp criticism of international law expert David Fidler of Indiana University who told Canada’s CBC, it was a violation of the International Health Regulations, which Canada themselves helped to draft after the 2003 SARS outbreak.
In total, over 40 countries all over the world have either banned flights or issued entry restrictions to people coming from affected countries or have modified their flight routes according to International SOS.
What cost is Ebola to Ghana?
But the curious question is, at what potential cost is Ghana doing this, especially without painstaking precautionary measures if countries with far established economies are finding diverse ways to prevent the spread of Ebola?
The fact that Ghana is one of 15 countries under World Health Organization’s (WHO) radar in their attempt to halt the spread of the deadly disease means the country is under serious risk of recording its first case. How prepared is Ghana against the outbreak of a disease which has killed about 5,000 West Africans?
Yes, two computers with thermal imaging cameras have been installed at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) as part of measures by the government to beef up surveillance to prevent any possible outbreak in the country. Any passenger with a temperature reading more than 38 degrees Celsius will be isolated for further screening but the fact that symptoms of the Ebola virus can only be detected after its three-week incubation period makes it a more delicate issue.
Again, Bloomberg’s revelation that airline passengers, in an attempt to avoid being detained for three rigorous weeks of isolation for symptoms, have started taking Tylenol, a body-heat reducing drug, before boarding flights makes a big joke of Ghana’s seeming scanty measures.
Border controls
It comes as no solace that Ghana’s Parliamentary Select Committee on Defence and the Interior recently expressed disappointment at the poor measures in place at Hamile Border post towards the possible transfer of Ebola via the entry point to Ghana. This has been re-echoed by the director of Public Affairs of the Ghana Immigration Service, Francis Palmdetti.
“We have 42 legitimate borders, but we have a lot of unapproved routes, and those are the routes our border officers patrol, quite a number of them do not even have a facility at the border to take care of these matters.”
According to Francis Palmdeti, only the entry points at Aflao, to the southeast, Elubo, the southwest, Paga, up-north and Accra’s Kotoka International Airport (KIA) have personnel who are equipped to handle Ebola cases which may arise. Since Palmdeti spoke, relief materials have started flowing in from both local and international groups but once again, the big question is are the materials being made readily available at the 38 unapproved routes?
The Director of the National Ebola Control, Dr Bedu Sarkodie, has been reported by the Daily Graphic as saying, “God is a Ghanaian, and that is why he has given us ample time to prepare. He will not forgive Ghanaians if we are unable to deal decisively with the disease when it hits our shores.”
There is a clear uneasiness and panic about how Ghana is gearing up towards any possible outbreak. As if by some design, one of these 38 unapproved routes was used by sea last Saturday when 17 Ghanaian fishermen returned from Liberia through Cape Coast. The Central Regional correspondent of Joy FM, Richard Kojo Nyarko gave an eye witness report, of the screening process.
“The health officials themselves were without face shield, were without nose masks and without other Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). All they came with was with was one laser thermometer to check their temperature, and some forms to take their personal details”, he said.
Economic challenges
Ghana’s economy has been touted as vulnerable to shocks by Joël Toujas-Bernaté, who led a recent IMF mission to Ghana, saying: “Ghana continues to face significant domestic and external vulnerabilities on the back of a large fiscal deficit, a slowdown in economic growth and rising inflation.
“These vulnerabilities are putting Ghana’s medium-term prospects at risk. The mission estimates growth to decelerate to 4½ percent in 2014, from 7.1 percent in 2013, and inflation to reach an average of around 15 percent for the year. The strain the epidemic will have on Ghana’s economy, should cases start getting recorded will be an epidemic on its own.
As I type, professionals all over the country are on strike over changes in pension scheme structure.The country is still coming to terms with erratic electricity and water supply; businesses are collapsing; to name a few of the plethora of problems plaguing the country.
Epidemic preparedness
Ghana may not have Ebola cases but is having its fair share of epidemics with over 22,000 cases of cholera and over 170 deaths this year which is unprecedented. Cholera cases have become an annual ritual in Ghana as far as I know (and I am 36 years old) and with such poor public health and hygiene, Ghana stands a chance of recording higher number of cases should the first case be established. If cholera cannot be controlled in Ghana, how will Ebola, which dwarfs cholera in the destruction business, be controlled?
The establishment of a United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), an institution which will serve as the nerve centre for treatment of Ebola in Accra means UN personnel will commute between Ghana and affected countries putting the ordinary Ghanaian at further risk. Ghanaians are still consuming bush meat which is the primary source of the transmission of Ebola.
Former president J. A. Kuffour recently called for an end to handshakes to avoid the spread of the disease, but traditional practices such as shaking hands and hugging are still rife in our churches, stadiums, family gatherings, offices and many more because this is who we are. We cannot change overnight! We should rather be thinking about better precautionary measures at our borders, especially the unauthorized ones, and the operations of UNMEER.
Ghana may have received plaudits to levels of deafening decibels but how tactfully government offers its widow’s mite to the prevention of the spread of the deadly Ebola disease will determine if the country does not turn into another Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia.

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