High spread of coronavirus in Ghanaian and African communities and its implications

The 2019 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV2), the virus that causes coronavirus-19 disease (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China, reached pandemic proportion in the first quarter of last year, 2020. Currently, every country on Earth, in one way or another, has reported cases of COVID-19 among their populations, at home or abroad. Ghana, like its other African nations, is no exception. To date, however, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Ghana stands at 58,065, with impressive recoveries of around 56,000.

Coronavirus has a low case fatality rate (CFR)
The coronavirus, an RNA-dependent zoonotic virus, has an exceptionally high rate of infectivity in humans but also a relatively low overall case fatality rate (CFR) of 1.15% (i.e. 12 deaths per 1,000 infected cases) and even with a much lower CFR of 0.6% in Ghana (i.e. 6 deaths per 1000 infected cases as in many other African countries). With more than 58,000 infected cases reported since March 2020, Ghana has recorded only around 350 deaths compared to other countries like Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom, where daily deaths due to COVID-19 number in the thousands. The case fatality rate (CFR) is the proportion of deaths among all infected people in a community. Nonetheless, these CFR numbers for COVID-19 from all countries are far lower than other notoriously fatal human viral outbreaks, such as the Ebola virus with 90% CFR and the Marburg virus which has recorded 40. % CFR.

Ghana’s situation is no different. Although health authorities or independent researchers have not undertaken any general screening exercise in Ghanaian populations to establish the true prevalence of coronavirus infection, limited studies and testing on people sampled from the population at the Using antibodies or PCR methods have shown a high prevalence of COVID-19. among the population. Fortunately, most of those people who carried the virus and therefore tested positive, or those who have already cleared the virus from their bodies, leaving antibody signatures, were generally asymptomatic. One example is the recent testing of around 30 randomly sampled people, all of whom tested positive for the coronavirus except for one person. The good news is that all of these COVI-19 positive individuals cleared the virus within a week and without showing any symptoms of the disease.

Severity of COVID-19
Data available to scientists since the Coronavirus outbreak indicates a relatively low severity of the disease globally among young people, African populations on the African continent, as well as people with a history of vaccination against other viral diseases. . The elderly population and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and asthma are the most vulnerable groups with very high COVID-19 death rates.

Factors behind apparently increasing trends in COVID-19 cases in Ghana
The recent concern raised by authorities and the public about the increasing trends in coronavirus infections in Ghana is not scientifically new as was predicted long ago. First, like all winter influenza illnesses, the coronavirus infection was expected to intensify with the onset of winter as the temperature drops. The harmattan experienced in Africa during winter also induces colder temperatures as dust in the atmosphere reduces solar radiation. This is why most of the countries currently facing low temperatures, some with high levels of snow in the northern hemisphere, are seeing high infections and deaths linked to COVID-19. Some of these worst-affected countries have resumed national or provincial closures to curb infection.

Second, all new infections are mainly reported in our hospitals by the Ghana health services. At the start of the epidemic, panic created by fear of quarantining COVID-19 patients and the government’s refusal to return the bodies of COVID-19 victims discouraged families of critically ill loved ones from receiving treatment , especially in public hospitals or clinics. The restoration of confidence to seek medical services in hospitals and clinics, only recently due to intensive education and the fight against stigma, contributes significantly to the increase in hospital visits as well as ” the increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases.

These results tell us that the virus has completely spread in our communities and that any effort to perform mass testing, either with the use of PCR or immunological methods for antibodies, will reveal hundreds of thousands, if not more. millions of Ghanaians who are unknowingly living with the virus or have recovered from its infection.

We must therefore not be afraid as a nation of these increasing numbers of reported COVID-19 cases, but rather to ensure that adequate arrangements are made to strengthen our health system to treat all patients with COVID-19. other illnesses (comorbidities) that tend to make people more susceptible to severe forms of COVID-19. Alternatively, programs such as healthy eating and the use of vitamin and mineral supplements, including vitamin C, should be encouraged among communities, as previously advocated by the President, HE Nana Addo Dankkwa Akufo- Addo.

Community spread of COVID-19
Globally, scientists have established that most communities have already been exposed to the coronavirus, a virus that causes COVID-19. COVID-19 antibodies have been found in millions of people who have not reported any symptoms of the coronavirus. These antibodies do not appear until the virus enters the body. With nearly 95% of people asymptomatic when infected with the coronavirus, these results are not surprising.

Effectiveness of face mask and hand washing
Although the spread of respiratory viruses can be reduced by wearing face masks (without any protection from face shields), the practice is less effective in our community settings. The highest efficiency that can be obtained from wearing a standard face mask in the open air is 70%. Frighteningly, over 90% of the masks available in Ghanaian markets have mesh pores several times larger than the diameter of the virus. A simple examination under an optical microscope can reveal these observations. These masks are therefore not complete proof of the prevention of coronavirus infection, apart from the improper wearing and contamination of the masks by the users.

However, we cannot overlook the psychological comfort and safety that comes with simply wearing a face mask, however ineffective it is. The practice of hand washing is also the best for the short-term management of infectious diseases like the coronavirus. However, this is also not complete proof.

Vaccination as the ultimate solution
Like all viral diseases which persist in their hosts, long-term treatment is obtained by vaccination. “Natural vaccination” could occur to induce herd immunity when an individual recovers from a first exposure to a natural pathogen such as viruses. The individual develops antibodies to protect against any future infection of the same or a similar pathogen. Alternatively and more conventionally, a part or a weakened form of a virus (pathogen) could be injected into a healthy individual to induce antibodies for long term protection against the pathogen.

Many people who have been unknowingly exposed to the coronavirus may have a better chance of dealing with the virus than those who remain uninfected. The world has moved forward in the production of coronavirus vaccines to manage the disease. Many countries have implemented targeted or mass vaccination of their citizens. Global coronavirus vaccination coverage is expected to be achieved within the next two years.

Written by Prof. Dr. Ir. Peter Twumasi (Biochemist / Biotechnologist)

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