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A letter to my nation, Ghana

BY: Edith Zikpi

If we had the chance to decide if we wanted COVID -19 at all, we – as a country – would have unanimously chose to be unrepresented in that discussion.

However, COVID-19 still paid us an unintended visit; pulled the plugs, stopping us in our tracks for months. We felt, for once, how the Jews felt as they were being mulled into Auschwitz’s consecration camps – completely oblivious and helpless.

At a point, the statistics - as true as they are - fueled our anxieties so we had to close our eyes and ears to them. But today, it’s better now and we have God to thank and also our health workers for handing us hope. You have etched a new level of admiration in our hearts.

We are arguably in the rainbow phase of the storm – at least here in Ghana. However, I bring to you from the rife moments of the storm, three revealing ideas that wouldn't sit still in my mind unless I cautiously mouth them. This is a wake-up call for our health ministry, educational heads and individuals. Let me start this way:

Money is good but strategy is better

COVID-19 did not leave room for any government to plan, it overwhelmed systems globally. It is understandable due to its novelty.

Let us settle on these fact figures (Pre-COVID): The US tops the list of OECD countries that are heavy “spenders” on health, she spends 16.9 per cent of her GDP on health, followed closely by France (11.2 per cent), Germany (11.2 per cent), The UK (9.8 per cent), Spain (8.9 per cent), Italy (8.8 per cent), South Korea (8.1 per cent) and Turkey with 4.2 per cent of her GDP.

It is safe to assume that all these countries, especially the US should be ashore, while the rest of the world dance to the waves of COVID-19.

Surprisingly, that isn’t the reality today. I reviewed the COVID-19 death toll of the same eight countries and the US started the list again with 552,000 lives lost and South Korea has the least number of COVID-19 deaths – 1,735.

All the other six repeated the same health spending ranks on the death toll list. You care to know why? The reason is: whilst the other countries relied heavily on their health systems to handle the situation, the Korean government took a proactive stance by strategising their way out. Should we fund our health systems? Yes! But let’s get our strategies right and alive.

Capacity building

We have played party politics with our health ministry for far too long. As a result, we are entirely oblivious to the core tenets of capacity building in the sector.

How surprised will you be, if i say we are not only visionless but also planless about the health sector.

We are good at reproducing WHO “recitals” and applauding politicians for building hospitals and paying allowances. It’s a shame. Until we extend the definition of capacity building to cover critical but silent areas with high payoffs – upgrading research facilities, funding medical specialisation programmess and revising the health education curricula – our politicians would be health tourists in Europe and America whilst we sit and sulk in frustration.

World is flat

I think i need to bring in Thomas Friedman to say this proper. The world has been flattened by globalisation.

Here is what I mean. Globalisation has a fast travel component for both humans and goods not just services. We didn’t quite understand this so we spent weeks debating our lockdown options when in fact, we should have done so.

If COVID-19 had struck in the 1800’s, it won’t be a pandemic at least not so fast. Half of China would have been wiped out by the time they discover it’s a virus and countries won’t be sharing vaccines.

We as a country must strive to stay abreast of trends in the health sector. I am particularly glad the vaccine came with the same speed the virus arrived on our soil.

What good gift is there to give our current crop of health students than a health system furnished with these three ideas – Strategy, Capacity building and Constant Information Upgrade.

To my dear nation, Ghana, the time to act is now. Let's re-strategise our health system for better health delivery.

The writer is a nurse and a writer