Address By The President Of The Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, On Updates To Ghana’s Enhanced Response To The Coronavirus Pandemic, On Sunday, 28th May 2023
Fellow Ghanaians, good evening.
It has been some time since I last came into your homes, so I want to thank you for having me again tonight. I have come because of two important events that both occurred last week on 17th May. The first is an update on the COVID-19 pandemic; the second is the recent agreement we have reached with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Some three weeks ago, on 5th May, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID was no longer a public health emergency of global concern.
It had taken three years, five months and twenty days of unbelievable tumult, unrelenting pain and suffering and emotional turbulence of a world turned upside down, but we have at last heard the words for which we had all been praying. The scientists and health experts tell us that we no longer have a public health emergency of international concern.
They tell us also that there is evidence of reducing risks to human health from COVID-19 infections. This has led to the decreasing trend of COVID-19 related deaths, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions. The world has also achieved the long hoped-for immunity, and with improved clinical management, the experts say it is time to transition to long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In other words, we can now breathe that collective sigh of relief. For, even though we may still have to deal with sporadic, isolated outbreaks, the crisis itself has technically ended.
The pandemic trend in Ghana is similar to the general global trend as announced by WHO.
As at 15th May, 2023, there have been one thousand, four hundred and sixty-two (1,462) deaths attributable to Covid-19 in Ghana, with the last death being recorded on 8th January, 2023. These are not mere figures, or inconvenient statistics, they are dearly loved parents, sons and daughters, relations, friends and colleagues whom we shall continue to miss dearly. May their souls rest in perfect peace. I am glad to report that, currently, we do not have any critical or severe cases.
In general, since the first case was confirmed in our country on March 12, 2020, there have been one hundred and seventy-one thousand, seven hundred and fifty-eight (171,758) positive cases from two million, five hundred and thirty-eight thousand, one hundred and ninety-eight (2,538,198) tests. You would recall that we started the Covid vaccination campaign in March 2021 and, as at 25th May 2023, twenty-five million, one hundred and seventy thousand, three hundred and eighty-two (25,170,382) vaccine doses have been administered. There are ten million, five hundred and thirty-six thousand four hundred and twenty (10,536,420) fully vaccinated people, that is, 52.7% out of the twenty million (20 million) people target we had set, with four million, five hundred and ninety-nine thousand, eight hundred and eighty three (4,599,883) persons having received booster doses.
In the light of these facts, the COVID-19 Taskforce, which I chair, met on 17th May and took some far-reaching decisions on the measures we have put in place for the management of the pandemic, which were announced by the Ghana Health Service on 19th May. The most important of these decisions was that the COVID-19 pandemic was over in Ghana.
Thus, all the outstanding Covid-induced restrictions at our airports and all entry points have been lifted, and we are back to the pre-COVID situation as far as health entry requirements are concerned.
It will be recalled that, three years ago, we started with drastic measures and restrictions; the international airport was shut for months and our land borders were closed to human traffic for almost three years.
The hospitality industry was devastated, hotels and restaurants and other social gathering places were shut down, schools and universities and training institutions were shut down. Indeed, our world was turned upside down. That culturally defining Ghanaian symbol, the handshake, was prohibited and frowned upon and we were advised not to hug our children and our loved ones.
Churches, mosques and other places of worship were closed for months, and our beaches remained emptied of human activity. Fellow Ghanaians, even our funerals, that sacred Ghanaian ritual, were stopped and then attempts were made to change the tone and character of the funeral with the imposition of restrictions on how many can attend or be fed at the ceremony.
Fellow Ghanaians, throughout these trying times, I kept urging all of you to believe that this, too, shall pass. Dare I say that this too has passed? The emergency is over, and we can safely lift many of the oppressive restrictions we have had to endure, we can shake hands, we can hug, we can visit, and we no longer have to wear masks. But it is strongly recommended that we keep some of the measures imposed during the crisis and integrate them into our everyday lives because they have served us well and will continue to serve us well.
I urge you all to continue with the regular hand washing and other personal hygiene measures, so they become entrenched national habits. There has been a dramatic decrease in diarrhoea diseases, and we have not had any cholera outbreaks these past three years – these developments are attributable mostly to the hand washing and improved hygiene regimen in our communities. It does not hurt to wear a mask if you have a cold for example, it might protect those around you. If you are uncomfortable in a crowded and enclosed space, go out into the open and continue the new ways we have devised for outside entertainment. I hope there will be no argument that we should continue and institutionalize the periodic cleansing, disinfection and fumigation of markets. Never again should our markets be breeding grounds for rodents.
There are other ways in which this nightmare has brought some good dividends that must be acknowledged.
It has led to the strengthening of our disease surveillance system, and this has been manifested in recent months by our ability to deal, in a very rapid and aggressive way, with outbreaks of frightening diseases like Marburg, Lassa fever, Monkey Pox, before they could turn into serious public health catastrophes.
The pandemic also exposed some of the painful deficiencies we have, and forced us to take some brave and necessary decisions, like the expansion of our network of health facilities under Agenda 111.
I doubt very much that, but for the pandemic, the network of health laboratories with capacity to do PCR testing in our country would have expanded exponentially from the initial 2 to 67 laboratories nationwide.
And, Fellow Ghanaians, we have begun the process of manufacturing our own vaccines with the establishment of the National Vaccine Institute. The painful lesson from the pandemic about the access to vaccines certainly concentrated our minds, and we must be proud that we did not bow our heads in defeat, but used the crisis to achieve such a positive outcome. We now have in place a Vaccine Institute and two Vaccine Manufacturing plants: I commissioned that of Atlantic Life Sciences Limited last year, and a few weeks ago, I performed the sod-cutting ceremony of that of DEK Vaccines Ltd.
There is no question but that Ghana came out of this global catastrophe much better than many other countries, if we consider the rate of infection, hospitalization and deaths. We must recognize that this happened because we worked at it in a focused and competent manner.
We refused to be swayed by the populist noises, conspiracy theory peddlers, false and uninformed analysts, but rather we relied firmly on the science and data-driven information for guidance.
Contrary to what some foreign experts claimed, we do have a decentralized, resilient public health system, which reaches every corner of our country with highly competent and dedicated health workers - a public health system of which we can be justly proud.
When it was most needed, the health sector and religious and traditional leaders demonstrated admirable leadership. The private sector rose to the occasion and displayed innovation and dynamism.
We managed a strong community engagement and communication strategy which carried the entire population along, and was admired and praised by Ghanaians and the outside world. Among Ministries, Departments and Agencies, there was strong and palpable multisector collaboration.
It certainly also helped that we found the resources from the government, partners, individuals, corporate entities, and the public to support health workers and procurement of required materials. Fighting covid has been a very expensive undertaking characterized, as it was, by lockdowns, closed borders, minimal economic activity and the consequential steep decline in revenues. The testing for the millions who went to public laboratories; the quarantine of arrivals from outside the country, hospital admissions, treatments and feeding for all patients were publicly funded and cost vast sums of money. The vaccination programme was expensive, very expensive; even though we received some donated vaccines, we purchased a lot with our own resources, and the multiple country-wide vaccination campaigns cost a lot of money.
The fumigation, cleansing and disinfection of markets, schools, offices and other public spaces also cost a lot of money. Free water was provided, and the cost of electricity subsidized. Fifty-four thousand (54,000) additional health workers were hired, and all health workers obtained a tax rebate.
Fellow Ghanaians, keeping us all informed about this most unpredictable virus was expensive. A lot of money was spent on public education, public information, risk communication, public and community engagements and keeping us all abreast with the relevant information. We must thank the Ministry of Information and its agencies, and the National Commission for Civic Education for the exceptional work.
It took courage, and I am particularly happy that we reopened schools, colleges and universities at the time we did in spite of the fears of some parents and the condemnation of our critics. In some countries, millions of girls and boys did not return when schools eventually reopened after they had been kept shut for over a year. The logistics for keeping the schools open were huge and costly, but I am delighted that no Ghanaian child was left behind.
Let me make it clear that COVID expenditures, essentially unplanned, have been subject, at my instigation, to audit by the Auditor-General, and are going through parliamentary processes. We all deserve to be reassured that the crisis was not used as a cover for corrupt practices. The COVID Health Recovery Levy that was introduced to help fill some of the expenditure holes might not be the most popular tax, but I entreat all of you to bear with us. The Covid Trust Fund has performed an invaluable service, and with these developments has reached the end of its mandate. I thank the trustees as well as all donors and contributors to the fund.
It is likely, God willing, that this will be the last in the series of ‘Fellow Ghanaians’ speeches on COVID, and, as your President, I have a truly long list of people and institutions I must take this opportunity to thank.
I thank, firstly, all of you, my compatriots, my fellow Ghanaians, for your patience, understanding and cooperation; health workers and the scientific community. I thank the leaders of the faith-based groups, the Christian Council, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Ghana Charismatic and Pentecostal Council, the Chief Imam and the Moslem leaders, for their strong involvement, powerful prayers and support, their help especially in feeding the vulnerable during the lockdown periods, and, through the Church of Pentecost, in providing accommodation for an isolation and treatment centre. I thank the Council of State and our traditional leaders, the National and Regional Houses of Chiefs, for their support and help in community sensitization. I thank the political and business leaders; development partnerships, NGOs, civil society; the sports, hospitality, entertainment, creative and tourism industries; our security services – police, military, immigration; teachers, pupils, students, parents, and guardians; I thank the journalists and the entire media.
A few weeks ago, I gave National Honours to most of the frontline workers who had been in the trenches as it were in the COVID battle. A total of twenty thousand one hundred and ten (20,110) people were given National Honours. They were well deserved, but I know some might have been left out, not out of any malice. We continue to recognize those who come to our attention.
I must make special mention of the Environmental Health personnel of the Ministry of Local Government. They played a key role in the burials of COVID related deaths. The private funeral homes deserve honourable mention. They set the pace for how funerals should be conducted within the COVID protocol restrictions and with cultural sensitivity.
In paying tribute to the health workers, I should address our psychologists and psychiatrists and express my gratitude for their work. Covid exacted an extreme emotional turbulence on the population and no one can predict how long the effects on our mental health will last and their work continues even after the end of the emergency.
I believe it would be appropriate to make also a special mention of the Ministry of Health and its implementing and regulatory agencies, the Christian Health Association of Ghana, the Military and Police Health Services, quasi-government, private health care providers and the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), which has established itself as a world-class institution, able to hold its own on the international scene.
On behalf of the people of Ghana, I express eternal gratitude to the Police, the Immigration and the Military, and the two IGPs, two CDSs and Comptroller-General that have served during the period.
I pay homage to the pharmaceutical and textile industries, and to the many corporate bodies that made generous donations, and rallied to the call for enhanced domestic production of medical supplies. The Ghana Airport Company must be mentioned for the hard work of its staff. The Ghana Education Service and the Director-General that saw us through the school closures and re-openings, thank you. And thank you to its sister body, the Ghana Health Service and its dynamic Director-General, both of whom gave such impressive accounts of themselves during this crisis.
It would be greatly remiss of me not to place on record my appreciation to the National Ambulance Service and its workers. They worked well and we are proud of them. I acknowledge the fact that digital technologies and drones helped very much in getting vaccines and medications to hard-to-reach areas, and I am glad they have become an integral part of our health delivery system. If we were still looking for any proof, we found that the high use of mobile phones and the digitalization agenda helped in the surveillance process, particularly with contact tracing and patient follow-up.
I am indebted to the Ministers of State, officials of the Presidency, led by the Chief of Staff, the Parliament and the Judiciary, and all the members of the brilliant COVID-19 Taskforce. I must make special mention of the Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, who was my reliable source of support in the darkest and most trying moments.
And to the many who advised me publicly and privately, supported and prayed for me, I say thank you.
The emergency is over. Unfortunately, the consequences are very much still with us, especially in terms of the economic devastation it has left in its trail.
It would be recalled that I said, right at the onset of the pandemic, that we would do whatever it took to protect the lives of the Ghanaian people. In the now often quoted statement, I said “we know what to do to bring the economy back to life, but what we do not know is how to bring people back to life”. The clear implication was that we would protect lives even if it was at the risk of harming the economy.
I knew that the pandemic and the measures we were taking to keep us alive would have a devastating effect on the economy, but I believe I had the support of the Ghanaian people to concentrate on protecting lives at any cost; but I do not think anyone, anywhere, imagined the effect would be so widespread, so destructive and so deep.
I owe it to you, my compatriots, and to myself to go to any length to bring back the economy to the rude health it was in before the onset of the pandemic. When things came to the state where I concluded that we had to go to the International Monetary Fund to access a facility for budgetary support, I gave directives to the Minister for Finance to start the process.
It was a painful decision for me to take, because going to the IMF was not part of the economic transformation agenda I had been pursuing, especially as my government had gone the extra mile to bring to a successful end the IMF programme we inherited from the previous government. But who would have imagined that President Akufo-Addo would order the closure of airports, offices, factories or schools. We were in extraordinary times and we took extraordinary measures, and when faced with the realities of the economic crisis last year, I accepted the challenge that the economy required a similar attitude, including the sacrifices many of us have made in recent times.
Luckily, the International Monetary Fund has been most supportive, and we have ended up with having our programme approved in record time, culminating in the formal approval by the IMF Board on 17th May. As I am sure we have all heard by now, the details of the programme have been explained by officials of the Fund and by our Minister for Finance and the Governor of the Bank of Ghana.
The first tranche of six hundred (600) million US dollars has been credited to our national account, out of the three (3) billion US dollars that we have negotiated to receive within a period of thirty-six (36) months.
Fellow Ghanaians, access to the IMF facility will not spell the immediate end of the difficulties we are in presently, but the fact that we have been able to negotiate such a deal sends a positive message to our trading partners, creditors and investors; a positive message that will be underpinned by the discipline, hard work and enterprise with which we execute the programme.
It should lead to the restoration of confidence and the reopening of avenues that had been closed to us this past year and a half. It should also lead to the resumption of many of the infrastructural projects that have stalled.
Fellow Ghanaians, we got ourselves out of a pandemic in which there were no precedents on which to rely, and where even the experts admitted they had no clear-cut solutions. We did it by being resolute, being focused and working very hard, and by accepting that we had to stick together.
With a similar frame of mind and attitude, we shall overcome the economic difficulties as well, sooner rather than later. I have no doubts at all in my mind that we are on the right path, and we would soon start to see significant improvements in the economy and in the living standards of Ghanaians.