People and the diseases they carry can be easily transmitted to any location in a matter of hours since we live in a linked, globalized society.
Infectious illness epidemics are becoming more common, particularly in developing nations, where they have severe effects on people’s health, social conditions, and economies.
An epidemic is the rapid spread of disease to a large number of hosts in a given population within a short period of time. Being no respecter of person, an epidemic disease can affect both young and old of the society.
The world since its creation has encountered several kinds of epidemics which have claimed many lives and caused great devastations to nations of the world.
In the last century for instance, the world has been hit by six (6) different kinds of epidemics with devastating results on its economy, people’s health and social conditions.
Between 1918-1922, Russia was unfortunate to have been hit hard by Typhus, (a fever caused by bacteria that are spread to humans by fleas, lice and chiggers) which claimed over 3 million lives of the Russian population.
Fast forward in 1957, the world was hit by a global pandemic called Influenza, which claimed between 1-4 million lives across the globe in a space of one year. Other forms of epidemics that have been recorded in the world’s history are the Bubonic plague, HIV/AIDS virus, smallpox and measles, Cocoliztli, influenza A/H3N2 among others.
In Africa, several epidemics erupted including the Ebola Virus, which claimed 15,266 lives between 1976-2020.
Ghana has equally had its fair share of having been hit to the core by some epidemic diseases recorded in its history which has caused so much social discomfort as well as serious health and economic instability.
We cannot overlook the recent and still present pandemic COVID-19 which ravaged the world at an alarming rate, causing great devastations to the world’s social, health and economic development. As at March 2023, the total number of deaths recorded globally is between 7-29 million lives of the world’s population with Ghana recording 1,467 deaths in similar trend.
The world has lost billions of dollars as a result of epidemics and pandemics. According to the Global Economy’s statistics and facts, the world has lost 2 trillion dollars as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the fall in the world’s economy, is the loss of lives as well as the delay in some affected nations’ development, specifically in Africa.
The world has lost significant members of nations to pandemics and epidemics due to its unpreparedness to battle such health conditions.
There is therefore the need for immense preparation from the local level to the national level to be able to effectively combat any epidemic that may arise again.
Every infection that spreads inside a community has the potential to endanger public health security since it may have serious health repercussions and may obstruct international trade and travel. Epidemic preparedness constitutes all the activities that have to be undertaken from the national to the health facility levels to be ready to respond effectively and efficiently to disease outbreaks.
Here in Ghana, there is the need to prepare adequately before, during and even after any epidemic crisis. Preparing for these unforeseen health conditions is a matter that ought to be treated with the highest form of urgency.
Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, Ghana was able to make contact traces, run tests and research into patients who were identified as COVID positive. Had it not been for the support of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) in Accra, where these tests were run, our state as a nation would have been very devastating. Even with that, we have encountered numerous cases of which tests were not run despite a lot of contact traces which have been made as a result of poor research work due to the load of cases recorded.
Even though Covid-19 cases are mild in the country currently, there is still the need for adequate preparation for any unforeseen epidemic that may arise.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stressed the significance of each town having mitigation measures in place to impede the spread of a virus with pandemic potential.
Preparing for this can be done in the following ways.
First of all, the government should invest in infrastructure building, that is building of ultramodern hospital facilities in every region of the nation with a minimum of two research institutions for running test cases. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how the infrastructure in the nation is insufficient to combat any epidemic. There was insufficient space to quarantine affected COVID patients, inadequate health personnel to take care of these patients among many other challenges due to lack of preparation. The developed nations of the world were very overwhelmed with the race of COVID-19 cases and death rolls every week amidst the ultramodern health facilities they have. This indicates that there is a need for much preparation in terms of health facilities from the local level to the national level.
The government therefore in ensuring the welfare of its citizens must make available adequate financial resources to ensure these projects are done.
Moreover, the government in preparation for any epidemic must provide adequate funding for educating a specialized group of nurses and doctors in the area of Epidemiology. These individuals must be thoroughly trained to equip them for any unforeseen epidemic disease that may arise. Training of such groups will be essential because the acquired knowledge and skills during the training will equip them to be able to identify and pre-inform the county of any epidemic arising, its prevention and control measures during and after the disease. Expertise in epidemiology, clinical medicine, health promotion and laboratory medicine are needed for an efficient epidemic response. The examination of outbreaks, surveillance, which includes contact tracing and follow-ups, as well as epidemic prediction are all tasks performed by epidemiologists for the effective management of a pandemic.
Adding up, the government in addition to the above-mentioned preparation strategies should have an account where a considerable amount is pushed in monthly solely for a would-be epidemic that may befall the country. This is very essential for the purpose of having already existing funds for vaccination and other health equipment which will be needed in the fight against any epidemic. Adoption of this strategy will ensure that the economy remains firm and running because there wouldn’t be the need to borrow or seek for funding.
Ghana as a nation needs to prepare adequately to be able to withstand any epidemic that may arise. Many nations of the world especially in Africa have seen devastating consequences of pandemic and epidemics on their social condition, health and economic system with much slower growth, a sight not pleasant to behold in our nation Ghana. The government therefore in helping in nation building and ensuring the welfare of its citizens must invest much financial resources into preparing adequately for any pandemic that may arise since the investments made in adequate preparation cannot be compared to the damage caused by this epidemic disease.
According to the World Health Organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.
The right to health is a basic human right, everyone must have access to health services they need when and where they need them without financial hardship.
I believe every Ghanaian must have access to health services they need when and where they need them without going through financial hardship.
This is why the government of Ghana must heed the numerous voices of concerned Ghanaians including the incessant calls being made by a vibrant advocacy group like the Send Ghana and its network members on the need to help establish a Public Health Emergency Fund without any further delay to help cater for emergency responses in times of epidemic crisis and above all improve healthcare delivery in the country.
Mr. President, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa, Akuffo Addo, it is time you put your house in order by inviting the Ghana Health Service (GHS), the Ministry of Health (MOH) including the Ministry of Finance to the table to see to it that a Public Health Emergency Fund is set up immediately to support the Epidemic Preparedness and Response (EPR) financing in the country so as to help build a robust health system that can withstand the effects of disease outbreaks in Ghana.
By Joseph Kobla Wemakor
The writer is a staunch human rights activist, National SDGs Champion and Founder/Executive Director of Human Rights Reporters Ghana (HRRG)