Despite reluctance, officials are keen to push on with the Covid vaccine programme, concerned that a new variant could wreak havoc in its mostly unvaccinated population, large groups of whom do not live close to hospitals.
Other west African nations have similarly low Covid vaccine rates, fueled by a delay in shipments and low uptake. Only 29 per cent and 24 per cent of Ghana’s neighbors Ivory Coast and Togo have received one vaccine. In the Ivory Coast, there was such a concern about the blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine that the director-general of health issued a statement assuring people of its safety.
Still, Ghana is believed to have vaccinated its target population with at least one shot. Most taxi drivers, teachers, and medical workers have received a vaccine. Meanwhile, only 976,000 over-65s live in the country, many of whom are thought to have been jabbed. It is not clear how many have been boosted – integral to beat waning immunity.
Fighting malaria, yellow fever and HIV
Indifference about Covid jabs is also linked to the scale of other urgent and competing healthcare needs. While the country has reported 161,000 Covid cases in total, nearly six million people were diagnosed with malaria in 2020 alone.
Ghana is among the 15 highest burden malaria countries in the world, accounting for three per cent of global deaths. In the most serious malaria cases, patients’ spleens rupture, kidneys fail, and they may enter a coma.
In October to November, a yellow fever outbreak was declared in the north of the country, killing 35 people. Like malaria, the disease is transmitted by mosquitoes. It has a high case fatality rate – 20-50 per cent of severe cases die within 14 days. In these cases, people can bleed from the nose, mouth and eyes.
At Ghana’s main diagnosis laboratory, staff process thousands of blood and sample tests each week, Richard, a spokesperson in the laboratory, says. One of the centre’s main jobs is to check blood samples for HIV, which affects 350,000 Ghanaians. But even this vital service was hit by the pandemic.
“At the Covid peaks, other services were impacted,” Richard says. “The ability to offer other tests, HIV used to be Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But we had to reduce it to one day a week.”