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In Ghana, covid-19 seems like simply one other acquainted well being menace

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Understanding how covid-19 has been perceived in West African nations like Ghana is essential to tackling it, says Ama de-Graft Aikins

Well being

| Remark

24 March 2021

Michelle D’urbano

IN A comedy sketch that lately went viral on Ghanaian social media, Coronavirus arrives late to a gathering. “What’s up, fellow lethal ailments,” Coronavirus says, as Malaria, Cholera and AIDS bounce up from their seats and rush for his or her face masks.

The sketch illustrates how some folks in Ghana are making sense of the pandemic. Whereas covid-19 is new and distinctive, for some it seems like simply one other on a listing of long-standing and omnipresent threats to public well being.

Social psychologists usually use the time period “acquainted alien threats” to explain conditions that folks actively distance themselves from of their minds as a result of they characterize disruption or hazard. However these threats nonetheless change the best way we predict, really feel and behave.


In 1918, the Spanish flu got here to colonial Ghana by means of European travellers. It shortly unfold throughout the nation, killing an estimated 100,000 folks in six months. This was preceded by a plague pandemic, and was adopted by epidemics of smallpox, yellow fever and sleeping illness.

Ghana and different West African nations have since had serial public well being crises, together with HIV and AIDS, Ebola virus illness and swine flu, and the silent epidemic of persistent ailments, comparable to diabetes. Social responses to covid-19 are being formed by this deep collective data of illness, debility and demise.

In March 2020, covid-19 arrived in Ghana’s capital Accra through Asian and European nations the place it was endemic. As a result of early hospital admissions and deaths have been linked to worldwide air journey, many Ghanaians distanced themselves from the home menace by describing covid-19 as a illness of a privileged city class.

As infections unfold and preventive measures have been imposed, public understanding and practices developed in ways in which mimicked responses to earlier public well being threats.

Widespread artists evoked collective recollections of previous well being crises and reminded folks about inequitable official responses. On social media, conspiracy theories about anti-African vaccines used the identical emotive language that fuelled protests in opposition to Ebola vaccine trials in 2014. Stigma and secrecy round coronavirus an infection emerged. Individuals began to experiment with religion therapeutic, natural cures and residential treatments. As an expert lady in Accra instructed me: “No one goes to the hospital… When you will have signs, you boil cloves, lemon, ginger and garlic and drink it like tea.”

At a deeper degree, the thought of Africa as a conduit for an infection is a permanent acquainted alien menace within the world creativeness. Social responses to covid-19 are additionally formed by consciousness of this concept.

From the Eighteen Eighties to Nineteen Seventies, colonial medical remedies of infectious ailments in West Africa led to advances in tropical medication and laboratory sciences. However this historical past was marred by unethical and racist practices, comparable to poisonous remedies for sleeping illness pressured on a whole lot of 1000’s of individuals. Throughout the Ebola disaster that started in 2014, West Africa was stigmatised and exoticised by world media, inflicting a destructive monetary impression on tourism, increased schooling and industries with worldwide ties.

Throughout covid-19’s first wave, world well being specialists predicted big numbers of African deaths, at the same time as native scientists developed efficient strategies for testing, prevention and remedy. These types of defamiliarisation devalue advanced African realities and compound distrust of Western interventions, like vaccination drives. However in addition they pressure crucial self-reflection and new methods of participating with the world, from independence actions within the Forties to the present “decolonise world well being” motion.

Equitable healthcare, social safety and world cooperation will play a big half in combating the covid-19 pandemic. Understanding social responses to it’s equally necessary.

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