As Covid-19 marches relentlessly into Africa there’s one man who has sat on the centre of one other equally pressing well being disaster. John Mahama was President of Ghana then. The teachings he discovered there and the exhausting political, social and financial selections he needed to make at the moment are a foundational textbook response for methods to cope with this new pandemic in a continent that has simply felt the primary breach of its partitions.
For many of us, the finer particulars of the virulence, timelines, geography and response to the final Ebola disaster are in all probability a little bit foggy. We bear in mind it was some years again, it was a horrible and horrifying illness, it occurred someplace in Africa, and it was someway vanquished. Given the place we at the moment are, we might do effectively to revisit what occurred throughout the Ebola epidemic and the way it would possibly inform the brutal world Covid-19 cage battle, the place there are not any spectators, solely combatants. Us.
So, to refresh. The newest Ebola epidemic began in 2013 and resulted in 2016. In West Africa, particularly across the neighbouring nations of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Ebola had been seen earlier than in Africa. Primarily within the central a part of the continent, way back to 1976, however this time the illness exploded angrily for the primary time within the West African area — 40% fatality charges, and a speedy contagion, overwhelmed well being companies. The WHO calls it ‘probably the most extreme acute public well being emergency seen in fashionable instances.’
On the centre of this firestorm was John Mahama who had taken workplace in July 2012 main the NDC celebration. He was additionally elected Chairman of ECOWAS (Financial Neighborhood of West African States) throughout his presidency, which turned out to be essential to the epidemic response. I not too long ago spoke to him about Ebola and Covid-19.
When it turned clear that the virus was transferring unfettered via the area, transported silently via the busy site visitors of commerce, journey and custom between the nations, Mahama instantly noticed that the issue was going to shortly turn into exponential. ‘We realised that the potential for it to unfold to our nation was nice. And so we shortly arrange an inter-ministerial activity drive to plan for contingencies in response,’ he tells me. This was even earlier than Ebola had an opportunity to achieve a foothold in Ghana, which, in truth, it by no means did.
He had entry to a extremely skilled Ghanaian medical and well being neighborhood, and quickly took steps to gather information and science and coverage recommendation. He established formal governance buildings, together with organising an advisory committee of numerous and extremely certified technocrats and specialists, which met weekly, and generally extra typically, chaired both by Mahama, the Vice President or the Minister of Well being, relying on schedules.
Extra importantly, he shortly accelerated surveillance on the borders for travellers from the affected nations, decreasing the probabilities of exterior virus transmission (both in or out). ‘The velocity with which this passed off was one of many issues that largely allowed us to flee the brunt of the Ebola epidemic’, he says.
Given his position in ECOWAS, he was additionally cognisant of the shared financial burden and the requirement to change information between its members. However the deteriorating scenario within the ECOWAS nations, he visited every of the affected nations to speak to the heads of states and their groups, a few of whom, he recounts vividly, appeared to have been visibly aged by the assorted human tragedies and financial meltdowns in their very own nations.
He speaks about how he satisfied President Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire to renew Air Ivoire flights to the affected nations, whereas on the similar time retaining strict well being and decontamination protocols to allay transmission fears within the vacation spot nations. Key to those visits had been the consultations between the assorted heads of state, to share info and to co-ordinate the sub-regional response
The upshot of those visits was the promulgation of a multi-country activity drive, made up of well being officers and specialists advisors from Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone Guinea and different sub-region nations, and overseen by the ECOWAS. It was the job of this group to fulfill incessantly and often, to conceive, debate, agree, doc and distribute protocols and procedures across the Ebola response. These had been carried out in every nation, together with issues as numerous as temperature taking, testing, borders controls, hospital processes, schooling and public consciousness.
This multi-country coordination groups appeared to have been the important thing turning level in opposition to the virus. He laughs after I question how he was capable of herd the unruly forged of politics, enterprise, media, academia and civil society onto a standard path. ‘When it’s a matter of life and loss of life, everyone falls in line’, he responds. This was additionally true of the extra fraught matter of cultural rituals like loss of life and funerals, which had been finally relinquished to state controls and processes.
Mr. Mahama additionally offers credit score to the rapid and beneficiant response by the worldwide neighborhood — the UN (which he addressed in New York), President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, WHO and others. The US despatched 5,000 personnel to the area to help. Monetary, technical and scientific help overflowed from many quarters. He considers this huge world response to have been a important contributor to the efforts undertaken domestically.
Not a single case of Ebola was registered in Ghana, a rare statistic given the ravages that occurred close by.
Which brings us to the current, the place the teachings discovered then might be dropped at bear now.
Covid-19 has now began its grim journey within the area (1,154 circumstances and 9 deaths in Ghana as of the time of writing), however its near-certain exponential climb are effectively understood by Mr. Mahama and the well being sector. Given the well-known trajectory of the illness and the area’s earlier expertise with Ebola, Mr. Mahama believes that Ghana is healthier positioned than most to reply to what’s certainly coming.
Whereas Mr. Mahama has no formal position in authorities, he has arrange a working Covid-19 committee of execs and specialists from throughout the political spectrum. Whereas there was some sniping about ‘parallel buildings’ from the ruling celebration, there’s additionally an acceptance that Mr. Mahama has been right here earlier than, and the committee is receiving rising non-politicised assist.
Mr. Mahama believes that the federal government may have maybe responded extra shortly than they’ve, however he was cautious, at the very least on this interview, to steer clear of political level scoring, emphasising the necessity for wide-ranging co-operation and classes discovered. He additionally made observe of a necessity for a nationwide pandemic response plan, at present not in place within the area (and, to be truthful, not in place in most nations of the world).
He’s very clear in regards to the hazard of misinformation, notably with respect to each social media and public pronouncements, and clear about authorities’s position to observe and police this (I questioned whether or not this was an unstated criticism of Trump, who has repeatedly punted an unproven anti-malarial remedy).
John Mahama is operating once more for President within the subsequent election, having misplaced in 2016. Having heard him keep fastidiously out of politicking and campaigning throughout the whole interview, and being stunned that he didn’t trumpet achievements throughout his time period, like having had almost 20 hospitals constructed, I push him as we conclude our name. Why ought to individuals vote for you, I ask. ‘I’ve had three years to replicate,’ he says. ’There are some issues I may have finished higher, and a few issues I did very effectively’.
Think about that. A politician who owns each his successes, and extra importantly, his missteps.
As this text was going to press on April 24, the Ghanaian authorities had simply lifted most of their lockdown guidelines, to some consternation amongst epidemiologists.
In regards to the writer: Steven Boykey Sidley is an award-winning and multi-shortlisted writer of 5 novels, a playwright and columnist. He has been printed on three continents.