Pressure group OccupyGhana has said before President Nana Akufo-Addo, a few weeks ago, further eased the COVID-19 restrictions imposed on the country to curb the spread of the virus, there had been several deaths which were kept from him, thus, denying him the full picture and complementary data to inform his decision.
Following its zoom meeting with the leadership of the medical team on the one hand; and the entire leadership of the government’s COVID-19 team on the other hand in the evening of 19 June 2020 after its press statement on 15 June 2020 in which it said it suspected the number of COVID-19 deaths were being massaged, OccupyGhana, again, issued another statement on Sunday, 21 June 2020 both the Ghana Health Service news release and the government’s COVID-19 team denied that the data was being massaged, claiming that rather, there had been a delay due to a verification process.
“We vehemently disagreed, and we still question the science behind the GHS’ claim that it is verifying the 'epidemiological condition' of dead COVID-19 cases”, OG said, adding: “We pointed out that this terminology served nothing but confusion, since the verification team in Accra was not doing any retesting or post mortem”.
“Simply, there is nothing to verify outside a simple phone call to the people on the ground”, OG insisted.
“As we also pointed out, and as the government’s COVID-19 team admitted, several of the deaths then not included in the national total, had occurred some two to three weeks before the President recently, further eased restrictions. To us, that meant that as of the time the President was taking that decision and announcing it, both he and Ghanaians had been denied the full complement of the data and the true picture”, the group noted.
“It is entirely possible that had the full information been made available, the President’s decision and public reaction would have been different. We still consider the excuse of a delay due to a so-called verification, unacceptable and untenable, giving grounds to our expressed suspicion. These delays erode public confidence in the GHS’ data”, OG stressed.
Read OG’s full statement below:
21ST JUNE 2020
OCCUPYGHANA® PRESS STATEMENT
Re: DEAR GHANA, HAVE WE DECIDED TO LIVE WITH THE VIRUS?
OccupyGhana® has seen the Ghana Health Service (GHS) News Release dated 17 June 2020 in response to our PR dated 15 June 2020 on the above matter. As a sign of good faith, we held back from an immediate robust response, to abide a requested zoom meeting between our leadership and Medical Team on the one hand, and the entire leadership of the Government’s COVID-19 team on the other hand, in the evening of 19 June 2020. It was a very engaging meeting.
This PR is to state our position after the GHS News Release and the meeting.
Just to recap, these are the health-related issues we raised in our PR:
1. Is it Government policy to head for ‘herd immunity’?
2. Why are ambulances not responding to the several callers?
3. Why is there so much delay in releasing test results?
4. Why has contact tracing reduced?
5. Sanctity of the data.
6. Why is there a shortage of PPE?
7. The holding and treatment centres in the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions (the two epicentres) are full.
1. ‘HERD IMMUNITY’?
The GHS’ News Release did not address this question. But at the meeting we were assured that this was not the Government’s intention. Noted.
2. AMBULANCE RESPONSE
The GHS’ News Release did not address this because, as they confirmed at the meeting, they did not consider this to be within their remit.
But we were concerned that the delays could be due to not enough ambulances having been assigned for COVID-19 related use. However, at the meeting we were assured that our concerns would be addressed. Noted. We will continue to monitor the situation.
3. TEST RESULT DELAYS
In the GHS response, it was claimed that it took 48 hours for most results to be released. That is inaccurate. As was shown at the meeting, currently, some results take as much as seven days. Sometimes it takes much longer to receive results.
We, therefore, raised further questions on whether the testing centres are optimised to perform? Are all the testing centres running, and if not, why? Do the testing centres have data entry issues? Do the sample collection facilities adequately fill the case forms that accompany all the samples? Is there a high number of mislabelling?
Ultimately, the meeting conceded that there are indeed delays and assured us that a lot was being done to address that. For instance, a barcode labelling system with electronic transmission of test results through the SORMAS app has been introduced.
We will continue to watch this space since reducing the delay in getting test results will reduce anxiety among those who have tested and then dovetail into the discharge strategy so that patients are discharged in good time to make room for others.
4. REDUCED CONTACT TRACING
We were informed that Ghana is no longer doing the enhanced contact tracing that characterised the lockdown, and that the mass contact tracing team has been disbanded.
We disagree, strongly. At the end of the lockdown on 19 April 2020, Ghana had 1,042 positive cases. Currently, we have a total of 13,717 positive cases of which 3,558 are active.
We find this new policy bizarre and counterintuitive. We know enhanced tracing has financial implications, but it beggars belief that that would be discontinued when the daily number of new positive cases is increasing. Early detection and treatment are critical to preventing severe and critical cases. We forcefully expressed these concerns and have been assured that they will be addressed. We will continue to advocate for and demand a return to enhanced tracing.
5. DATA SANCTITY
This was the elephant in the room. Our exact words in our 15 June 2020 PR were:
“There is cause to suspect that the death numbers are being massaged.” We then gave one cause of the suspicion.
Both the GHS News Release and the Government COVID-19 team denied that the data was being massaged, claiming that rather, there had been a delay due to a verification process.
We vehemently disagreed, and we still question the science behind the GHS’ claim that it is verifying the 'epidemiological condition' of dead COVID-19 cases. We pointed out that this terminology served nothing but confusion, since the verification team in Accra was not doing any retesting or post mortem. Simply there is nothing to verify, outside a simple phone call to the people on the ground.
As we also pointed out, and as the Government COVID-19 team admitted, several of the deaths then not included in the national total, had occurred some two to three weeks before the President recently further eased restrictions. To us, that meant that as at the time the President was taking that decision and announcing it, both he and Ghanaians had been denied the full complement of the data and the true picture. It is entirely possible that had the full information been made available, the President’s decision and public reaction would have been different. We still consider the excuse of a delay due to a so-called verification, unacceptable and untenable, giving grounds to our expressed suspicion. These delays erode public confidence in the GHS’ data.
The meeting agreed that it should not take two weeks to verify the data. We were assured that the problem had been resolved and there would be more real-time updates. We will continue to monitor this.
6. PPE AND SAFETY OF HEALTH WORKERS
We informed the meeting that Facilities that we contacted since our PR have indeed been supplied with some items this week. Although there are inadequate stocks of PPE in almost all facilities, we acknowledge efforts being made to improve the situation. We raised further questions on whether the front-liners are receiving their allowances and on time. We were assured that these would be looked into. Noted.
7. HOLDING AND TREATMENT CENTRES AND BED SPACES
There was general acknowledgment, and it was indisputable that the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions’ holding and treatment centres had run out of spaces, and we expressed our surprise there was an effort to deny that. While it may be true that some 21 centres are lying idle in other areas, we asked if there was a plan to move patients from the epicentres to the idle centres. We were assured that that would be looked into. Noted.
We appreciate that the situation with COVID-19 is fluid and changing all the time. We appreciate the hard work that those in charge and in the frontline are doing. We are all concerned about the welfare of our fellow citizens. We appreciate the challenges. But those challenges and the full, unvarnished story must be told plainly and bluntly to the authorities. Those in authority will not and should not be offended by being shown the true picture. We believe that those in authority seek the best for the rest of us, and that showing them exactly what is on the ground, will only make them better.
Once again, although we could not agree on the answers provided and explanations made to all the issues raised, we acknowledge the good faith shown by the GHS and the government team, especially for opening the door for future engagement between them and us.
There surely will be further engagement.
For God and Country