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Covid-19: Outlook of 5 Savannah Regions

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Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in Ghana in March 2020 till date, all major cities and the 16 administrative regions of Ghana have recorded varied number of cases. In a recent documentary aired on A1 Radio 101.1 MHz on Friday November 5, 2021, a vivid outlook of five regions of northern Savannah were examined. These were; Northern, Upper East, Upper West, Savannah and North East regions.

In this piece of write up, we give you a vivid picture of what was contained in the documentary including how all the five regions recorded their cases of the pandemic, how they tested those cases, how they managed them, how authorities carried out campaigns to fight the pandemic, how many persons died through the virus and which areas were and maybe, are still epicenters in the reported regions.

Readers are hereby notified that data, as captured in this writeup, was from the onset of the pandemic till 23rd of October, 2021.

First, the Upper East Region. According to the 2021 Population and Housing Census the region has a population of 1,301,221. Since March 2020 to 23 October 2021, the region had recorded 1,478 cases of Covid-19.

Out of this number, 1,413 had recovered with 12 active cases. Out of the 12 active cases, 5 were still been managed at the treatment center. As at October 23, the virus had killed 53 persons in the region.

The Regional Health Director, Dr Emmanuel Kofi Dzotsi disclosed the breakdown of cases in the region, “As at 23rd of October, 2021, we have recorded a total cumulative case of 1,478 and currently as we speak now, five patients infected with COVID are at our admission center. Unfortunately, we have lost 53 people to the pandemic. We have so far discharged 1,413.

Currently, we have 12 active cases, seven of them are being managed at home and five are being managed at the treatment center. These cases are coming from the Bolga Municipality where there are nine cases; Bongo with one case and the Kasena Nankana with two cases. I must say that the epicentre for this pandemic in the region is the Bolga Municipality, where we are recording increasing number of cases.

I know this pandemic of COVID-19 is highly prevalent in areas where we have densely population and the Bolgatanga Municipality being the capital of the Upper East Region happens to be the densely populated area and there are numerous activities that are bringing people together. So, that happens to be the epiccenter for the pandemic”.

Dr Dzotsi observed people were no longer adhering to the preventive protocols, the reason the region was still recording cases of the virus.

He said, “For the cases to come down, it appears that the adherence to the COVID-19 protocols is becoming challenging. Now people have totally refused wearing the facemasks and now hand washing is becoming something of the past. Some people don’t have Veronica buckets, some places there is no water in it, some places there is no soap. So, the adherence to the protocols is coming to a standstill. So, we call on the populace that the pandemic is not over.

Although the cases are coming down, we need to continue implementing adherence to the protocols. So, we call on the populace, please this pandemic is not over; just continue to adhere to the protocols. Ensure that before you step out from your house, you wear your facemasks; that’s the only way you can prevent yourself from getting infected. We also are calling that social gatherings, we should limit the number of people that gather expecially at funerals, churches and mosques. And let’s adhere to ensuring the social distancing among the populace and hand washing.

Intermittently, please wash your hands with soap, running water; if there is no running water, please you can use the hand sanitizers so that we can protect ourselves until the time that we are able to vaccinate at least 80 percent of our populace and achieve a head immunity”.

Edmund Mohammed Nyanwura is the Bolgatanga Municipal Health Director. He said, “The Bolgatanga municipality has a total population of about 130,091 people for this year, that’s from the Statistical Service. And with the vision of vaccinating 20 million Ghanaians, the target for Bolgatanga Municipality is 70,249. So far, from the 25th of March that we started vaccinating in Bolga, we have vaccinated a total number of 10,593 as at last Sunday [October 26, 2021] and 1847 are fully vaccinated so far. Currently, we have vaccines in all our health facilities where we give immunization and it’s ongoing.

We have a total of about 2,500 of the AstraZeneca vaccines and anybody who is interested in taking the vaccines could go to any of the health facilities. It is really well encouraged to try and take the vaccines because when all of us take the vaccine, or most of us take the vaccine, that is when we can reduce that potential risk of transmission and also when you take the vaccine, the risk of hospitalization is  minimal and the severity also reduces”.

In the Northern Region, the population stands at 2, 310,943 people. Out of this population, 1,747 persons were said to have been infected with the virus with 31 deaths. 1,679 had recovered while 9 active cases were still being managed as of 23 October.

The Northern Region’s Deputy Health Director in charge of Public health, Dr Hilarius Abiwu gave an account of the situation.

He said, “Most of the cases that have been diagnosed in the region are centered around Tamale-Sagnarigu. More than 80 percent of the  cases that cases that have been diagnosed are centered around these two districts. Geographically, Tamale and Sagnarigu are like one big metro  that has been divided, so it is not too surprising to have these numbers and largely also because the population density, the number of people, the crowding within these districts (Tamale, Sagnarigu), is significantly different from what you observe when you travel to the rest of the region.

In a number of the districts, you see settlements and sometimes you have to travel several distances to  come to the next community and things like that. If you enter the Tamale space, the population growth is quite rapid, the space is narrow, a lot of people are moving to the city center to try and improve on their economic activities and things like that. So, it is not particularly surprising that if you have an infectious disease like this one you are likely to get most of the cases coming from the capital. The other thing also is that as we know, COVID-19 did not originate from this country, it came from outside; people travelled and brought it in.

Generally, where you have economic activity, people travel in and out very frequently, the likelihood that you are going to have a surge in the numbers is very high. So when you look at Accra where most of the international travels enter and then  Kumasi where there is also airport and a lot of economic activity, the numbers appear to be the highest. So if you follow the same thinking, you could easily explain why Tamale with a local airport and a lot of travels for  economic activity and  the regional capital, it’s a good reason why you could easily have these COVID  cases being centered around these two districts.

The other reason that may be the case is that the region has only one teaching hospital, which is the Tamale Teaching Hospital. So most often a lot of the COVID cases will end up being in Tamale Teaching Hospital or would have been diagnosed through Tamale Teaching Hospital because most of the severe; those who are severely ill are referred to the Tamale Teaching Hospital and that is the main treatment center also for COVID.

Additionally, a testing facility for COVID19 has largely been just in the neighborhood in Tamale, the public health reference lab and that’s where a lot of people see a lot of people walk in to come and take their COVID testing and organize for groups to pass there and take their tests and all that. So sometimes it is not so difficult to explain why Tamale as a metro would get most of the cases allocated to it because of where the individuals are allocated and where they diagnosed with”.

On adherence to the preventive protocols of the virus, Dr Abiwu had this to say, “This is an infectious disease and so once you come into contact with any person who is infected, the likelihood that you would also take up infection is high.

Now the only way you can slow down the number of people who are getting infected largely is through the adherence to the COVID-19 safety protocols. But as the picture has been across the country and particularly so in the northern region, there is a sense in which people believe that either COVID-19 does not exist or even if it does exist, it is not as serious as health workers are making it to look like and to that extent majority of the people are not necessarily adhering to the safety protocols. Of course, when you get to offices, government agencies and places like that the situation is a little better than you find on the streets and also in the market and other public places.

So largely the number we have gotten, we can say it’s largely due to the non-adherence to safety protocols. Apart from that, the proportion of people who have currently vaccinated against the COVID are also quite low which is a situation also in the country. So, we won’t expect that significantly we have some immunity against the spread of the COVID-19. So largely it’s a combination of factors. Largely it’s centered around the non-adherence to the protocols and the low coverage in terms of immunization of the population we are dealing with.”

With a population of 649,627, the Savannah Region had recorded 262 cases making it the least region with Covid-19 cases in Ghana. 247 of the infected persons have recovered while there are still 12 active cases being managed. 2 persons have died of the virus in the Savannah region.  The Savannah Region’s Director of Health, Dr Chrisantus Kuubio said out of the 6 districts in the region, five had confirmed cases of the virus.

“We have an estimated population for the Savannah Region. We have a little over 600,000 and we are looking at the eligible population of about 54,000 of the regional population and that gives us a population of about 330,000 that we need to cover as far as the vaccination is concerned. And we have been able to give the vaccines to a little close to 50,000 of the population and that is what has given us the 14% coverage for those who are not fully vaccinated, those who have received the first dose.

And that for the Johnson and Johnson so far, we have received 500 and have exhausted that. And so, if we add the Johnson and Johnson, which is just a single dose for now to those who have received the AstraZeneca, the second dose to get the population that is fully vaccinated, that gives us a figure of 0.7% as your numerator divided by  the 330,000 that we are talking of, that gives us a proportion of the 0.7%. As I said, we have received some more vaccines and we are going to continue with the exercise and we want to still solicit the support of our revered chiefs, opinion leaders, who are championing for people to receive the to continue with the education. The vaccine is good. It’s going to protect us on this pandemic.”

Dr Kuubio also revealed the picture of cases in the region. He said, “If you look at the data in relation to confirmed cases, I think Savannah is the least as far as confirmed cases are concerned. But we initially didn’t have a testing center. Our samples went to KCCR in Kumasi and later on Tamale center too was set up and that was where we sent our samples for testing. Later on, headquarters supported us to set up testing centers at Salaga hospital to take care of the East Gonna Municipal and North East Gonna Municipal samples.

There is another testing center at the West Gonna hospital to take care of samples from Central Gonja, North Gonja and West Gonja Municipalities. Then another testing center at Bole hospital to handle samples from Bole District, the Sawlala- Tuna-Kalba Districts. So, for now these are the areas that we are able to test and in all, we have seven districts and we have confirmed cases from six of these districts.

Initially, the first wave we had confirmed cases from Central Gonja and the East Gonja Municipal. The second wave, we had confirmed cases, aside East Gonja and Central Gonja, West Gonja municipal and the Bole Districts too had confirmed cases. And with the third wave that we are experiencing now, as I indicated earlier, all the districts have confirmed cases except North East Gonja District. That is not to say that Northeast Gonja District there isn’t any case there. Because they do not have a hospital and because of their closeness to Tamale, most people will seek health services there. So, it’s possible that there are also confirmed cases from that place that we are not aware of”.

Still in the Savannah Region, Owusu Sekyere Joseph is the West Gonja Municipal Disease Control officer and doubles as the Municipal Head of Public Health committee and Implementing Agency. He not enthused about non-adherence to the preventive protocols.

He revealed, “The injection is one of the ways to curb the COVID. So, the injection alone does not guarantee one that once you take the injection you should go unmasked. But I think admittedly the health personnel have not drummed this one. I think the focus has been on the injection rather than the other interventions but that is a bad stance and it won’t help. Going forward I think that once we are giving the vaccination, we as well tell them that the vaccination alone is not the guarantee to curb the COVID but they should as well wear the mask and then the social distancing and sanitizing their hands and washing their hands regularly.

He said regrettably that, “On behalf of the health implementing agency and also the public health emergency committee, on three occasions we have tried to let the populace wear the masks but it has not worked. You go round and you see that people are not wearing the masks as expected and even the attention now to the protocol has dwindled. We have seen the need to still go ahead to make sure that they wear the masks.”

In the Upper West Region, Wa Municipality had recorded 300 confirmed cases and 15 deaths, making it the epicenter of the region. The region has a population 904,695. Of this, some 739 persons had been infected with Covid-19. 40 of these persons had died while 708 of them had recovered with 3 active cases.

Dr Damien Punguyire, the Regional Health Director narrated how residents were no longer adhering to the preventive protocols.

He stated, “On our rounds, we have observed that everybody is fatigued. No nobody wants is talking about COVID anymore because they are not seeing the deaths. They are not seeing people falling sick and though we are talking about the need for adherence, we are not telling people that these number of people have been infected and they have died. So, people are relaxed. If you go to the market, you can see 100 people and maybe three people are wearing nose masks.

Currently you go to some of the shops and the Veronica buckets are empty, no soap and so you don’t know what is happening. I think that we need to get back to our previous situation. We know that the disease keeps on changing like all viruses; they keep on changing their style and currently you know.”

Still in Wa, the Medical Superintendent of the Upper West Regional Hospital Dr Robert Amesiya said, “ I am not happy that COVID came but I’m happy that COVID came at the time this hospital is available because we had a very well designed isolation center and then we also had eight ventilators. When the whole country was crying of ventilators, we had enough ventilators to take care of COVID patients. So we have currently one patient on admission, by last week we had about six patients but now only one patient is on admission and we are happy that we have a suitable center to take care of them. But COVID management comes with resources.

When you admit a patient with COVID, the relations do not come with food, they are not supposed to buy medicine from outside and all other things; so it comes with a cost. The good thing is that the regional health directorate is supporting us adequately in the area of COVID. We are at the center for severe and moderate cases, prevention they say is always better than cure. Even though we are positioned in terms of resources and training to be able to accommodate people who come, it involves the usage of resources and we know resources are quite scarce. So, if we have the resources, we should use them for things that are non preventable.

So, I still think the way to go is to ensure that we strictly observe the protocols as prescribed so that we don’t even get into a situation where it spreads for us to now be thinking. But our facility is there, nationally we have ventilators and they have even brought in more. So, as for positioning ourselves to address it, there’s no problem at all. But it doesn’t matter how big your facility is; if the numbers are overwhelming, you will still not be able to contain. So we don’t  even want to get to a state where the control is completely out of gear.”

Some residents of the five regions who shared their views about how the pandemic is being handled said people do no longer adhere to the preventive protocols because the actions and inactions of some leaders towards the fight against the virus are contributory factors to nonadherence to the protocols. Some cited the fact that the President has stopped giving monthly updates on the pandemic so it means the virus is no longer there.

Inasmuch as the state has the responsible to ensure its citizens are protected against the virus, the citizens must also ensure they take personal responsibilities in protecting themselves and others against the virus.

This report forms part of activities approved under the Media Foundation for West Africa – Project: “Covid-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information” being implemented with funding support from the European Union through Deutsche Welle Akademie.

Source:|101.1MHz|William Nlanjerbor Jalulah|Ghana

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