Wearing of the face mask is one of the most important protocols recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the prevention and transmission of COVID-19 from one person to another. To fight the spread of COVID-19, many places now require people to wear face masks.
WHO AND THE FACE MASK
Masks according to the WHO is a key measure to suppress transmission and save lives – “masks should be used as part of a comprehensive ‘Do it all’ approach including physical distancing, avoiding crowded, closed and closed-contact settings, good ventilation, cleaning hands, covering sneezes and coughs, and more”.
Depending on the type (medical masks, non-medical masks, fabric masks); masks could be used for either protection of healthy persons or to prevent onward transmission.
Medical masks are recommended for health workers in clinical settings; anyone feeling unwell including people with slight symptoms such as muscle aches, slight cough, sore throat, or fatigue; anyone awaiting COVID-19 test results or who has tested positive.
It is also recommended for the following groups including people aged 60 or over, people of any age with underlying health conditions including chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, immunocompromised patients, and diabetes mellitus.
Non-medical or fabric masks could be used by the general public under the age of 60 and who do not have underlying health conditions.
DIRECTIVE ON MANDATORY USE OF FACE MASK
According to Section 169 of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851), Gana’s Mnister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, by an Executive Instrument (E.I.61), declared COVID-19 a public health emergency. Section 170 (1) of the Act provided that the Minister of Health may order an individual to take a preventive measure in respect of public health matters.
Based on this, on 25th April, 2020, the Minister directed through a press release signed on his behalf by Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, the Director General of the Ghana Health Service, that the use of face masks in all public places where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing.
“The general public is encouraged to wear mask or face covering when going out whether sick or not or attending to a sick person”, the statement said. The statement particularly stressed that any incorrect use of the face mask carries a high risk of infection.
It listed food vendors and sellers at market places, commercial vehicle drivers and attendants, commuters on public transports, persons in public and commercial centers, facilities and buildings including but not limited to offices, bars, workshops, restaurants, sports arenas and spars, saloons, shopping malls, churches, clinics and hospitals and all other facilities accessible to the public whether privately or publicly owned as the groups or persons required at all times to wear the face mask.
As Ghana began to witness a surge in the number of infections, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in his 22nd address to the nation, on Sunday, 17th January, 2021, instructed the security services to enforce strict adherence to the COVID-19 prevention protocols as part of government’s efforts to deal with the pandemic.
“I have instructed the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. James Oppong-Boanuh to direct Officers, men, and women of the Police Service to ensure the rigorous enforcement of the law on mask-wearing at all public places and in public transport”, said the President.
One worrying challenge, however, despite the importance and the enforcement of the use of the face mask by the public is the level of abuse. Apart from improper wearing of it particularly removing it when trying to speak, pulling it down the chin, and wearing it under the nose, some users often use the face mask continuously for days even in the case of the surgical mask which is not reusable.
Master Danjumah Tasoglomwine, a Cab Driver who has one dirty surgical mask hanging on the left corner of his car, said he’s been using the mask for two days without changing.
He agreed it was dirty but said he could not afford to spend GH?1.00 on daily basis to be changing his face mask, saying, “I know I should be changing it regularly but I cannot afford it”.
“I should have been using at least two in a day but that would mean GH?2.00 in a day. With the hardship in the system, we are not able to make agreed returns to our cab owners and therefore, cannot afford to be buying face masks everyday”, he said.
Master Moro Issahaku, another cab driver said he was using the fabric face mask to avoid spending money daily to buy the surgical mask. He showed the visibly dirty fabric mask to me and claimed he washed it every day after work so he could use it the following day.
Madam Kubrah Salifu, a lemon seller at the Wa Market, when asked about her mask, quickly pulled her nose mask from her small purse to show that she had a mask.
She was not bothered that sitting in a market place, she should be wearing her face mask and not put it inside a purse.
While health experts are warning of a fourth wave, Madam Kubrah Salifu believes the disease is gone, hence, wearing of the face mask, for her, is of no importance any longer.
“I have one that I keep in my purse in case the security people come around, I quickly put it on”, she said whilst bursting into laughter.
Mr Gabriel Mwinkabo, a business man said he has just one surgical face mask in his car which he uses all the time he steps out of his car.
“I always remove it and hang it inside the car when I get back”, saying, he is not bothered about changing it frequently because it does not get dirty often.
Mr Seidu Benin, a public worker, said he often uses surgical masks which he usually hangs on the wall when he returns home after work so he could use it again the following day.
“I only change it when I realise it is dirty and also sometimes when I forget to pick it when stepping out – you know how hard the system is, we cannot afford to be changing our face mask in a matter of hours”, he said.
Dr Dennis Laryea, Acting Head, Disease Surveillance Department, Ghana Health Service, in an interview, pointed out that unfortunately, a lot of people do not get the principle behind the wearing of the face mask.
This according to him is responsible for the high level of abuse by the public, saying, the face mask is suppose to prevent people from transmitting droplets of saliva to other people closer to them whilst also preventing themselves from receiving droplets directly on their faces.
He said ideally, one needs to change his/her face mask after every four hours, adding that, in trying to wear a face mask, one must be careful not to touch the inside portion of the mask with bare hands to avoid contamination.
PROPER WEARING OF MASK
According to the WHO, masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives.
“First, clean your hands before you put your mask on and also before and after you take it off as well as any time you touch it”, it said.
“ Make sure it covers your nose, mouth, and chin and when you take it off, store it in a clean plastic bag, and every day either wash it if it is a fabric mask, or dispose it off in a trash bin if it is a medical mask”, it explained.
The WHO also warns against using a mask with valves whilst indicating that the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against COVID-19.
Additionally, it says, one needs to stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue.
Meanwhile, the case count of the global pandemic in the region stands at 741 cases of which 704 have been discharged leaving three active cases whilst 34 people, unfortunately, lost their lives to the most deadly disease in world history.
Wearing of face mask must be a normal part of being around people. The appropriate use, storage, and cleaning or disposal of masks are essential to make them as effective as possible according to the WHO. Any improper use or abuse could result in infection and must be avoided.