Elizabeth Ohene writes... Sticking with the science

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The writer, Elizabeth Ohene
The writer, Elizabeth Ohene

In the Ohene household when we were growing up, there was a scientific explanation for everything, especially anything to do with health. If you complained of a headache, there were a number of questions that you would be asked: have you moved your bowels today? how much water have you drunk and did you sleep well?

Headaches were the result of not having eaten your vegetables or fruits, being constipated, or heavens forbid, that you had somehow missed the Sunday-Sunday anti-malaria tablet, Resochin, that was obligatory for everyone in the household.

If you fell down and grazed your knee or got a cut anywhere on your body, the antiseptic of choice Dettol would be splashed on the area and topped off with a sticky plaster or bandage depending on how serious the cut was, and you would be sent off.

One of us once fell off a fruit tree and broke an arm and ended up in the hospital with the arm in a cast. It was a fracture, we were told, and the arm had been put in the ‘white cement’ so the broken bone would be immobilised and get a chance to heal.

Malaria was the most common and widespread source of ill health and we quickly learnt that you got it when you were bitten by mosquitoes. Prevention is better than cure was drilled into us and we slept under mosquito nets, willingly, and took weekly anti-malaria prophylactic, most unwillingly and under duress, but we did.

If you got malaria, my Papa didn’t say so directly, but you were made to realise you must have broken one of the rules; you were bitten by a mosquito and you missed the weekly anti-malaria tablet.

From then on, you knew you were going to be very sick and had to take horrible quinine tablets for about a week and be subjected to the steam therapy and lose your appetite and it will take a while to return to good health.


Science, we were told, is a matter of one thing leading to another. Cause and effect, I think is what it was called; if this happens, it leads to that one.

In our present circumstances, we can’t see or hear a mosquito, but the cause and effect is very much in operation and the prevention is better than cure statement still holds true, especially when there isn’t a cure in sight yet for COVID-19.

There is a malevolent virus loose on a rampage through the world. The virus seems to like crowds and gatherings in general. As one of those sayings on the Internet goes, the virus has an ego and won’t enter your home without an invitation. So, we stay at home, we wash our hands with soap and water, we refrain from touching our faces.

If we must go out, we keep the outing short, keep the prescribed social distancing. We would continue to pray by all means, but to quote the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, science is the answer to our prayers.   

The witches have not yet worked out how to take and distribute COVID-19, so they are not in the picture. We are all free, therefore, to stick to the science.

With loved ones far away

I doubt that I have read or heard as many unfunny jokes as I have done in the past two months since restrictions were placed on movements around the world and in our bit of the world especially.

Most of the jokes are woven around what a thoroughly hard time husbands are going to have and are having because they are forced, for the first time, to stay at home.

It has been put out there that this is some special bonus time for wives as their husbands have no choice but to stay with them in their homes, when the husbands would much rather be somewhere else, preferably with another woman, a girl friend, or what I am told is called a side-chick these days.

I have seen staged videos of a wife celebrating the lockdown because she believes she would now see more of her husband and he would hopefully even help with the chores.

If we are to believe this narrative, it must mean that what many call home is an unhappy place where they would like to spend as little time as possible.

It must mean that they should have no difficulty practising social distancing in these self-built or self-rented prisons. I have not seen or read the story from the perspective of girlfriends or side-chicks.

I do remember something we used to say, which might be appropriate for the moment: peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away. 

Nor any drop to drink

The announcement by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo that we won’t be paying water bills for the next three months has been the most cheering piece of news during these topsy-turvy times.

It is not only because paying bills is not the most popular thing at any time. Water happens to have acquired an even more important status in our lives than normal.

Under the current circumstances and what all of us are obliged to do, there is no point in some of us being able to wash our hands and others unable to do so because we would all be at risk from those unable to wash their hands.

Some people are demonstrating their happiness by leaving taps on and wasting water. The way to show respect for water, it used to be said, was not to waste it.

Under our current circumstances, we should all take it as our responsibility not only that we do not waste water ourselves, but to aggressively intervene to stop anyone wasting water. If you see someone wasting water and you do nothing, it is like coughing in the face of your neighbour, it is like refusing to wash your hands or use a sanitiser before entering a public place and you are a danger to all of us.

I need not go into the hard reality that we would indeed pay for the free water since every cedi the Government of Ghana has and spends, comes from us, the people.

At the moment, I just want to recall the popular poem by the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and quote: “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink”. It might be free, but please don’t waste it. Our lives depend on it.