Wa, Oct. 26, GNA – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll across the world, costing lives and bringing upheaval and change to societies and economies around the globe.
While the global scientific community is racing towards effective vaccines or therapeutics, the most essential defence remains the most fundamental of public health measures, such as personal hygiene and mass physical distancing.
On March 12, 2020, Mr Kweku Agyemang Manu, the Minister of Health announced Ghana’s first official two cases of COVID-19; an announcement that brought a lot of fear among the citizens.
Subsequently, educational institutions ranging from Kindergarten, Primary, Junior and Senior High Schools, tertiary institutions including Universities both public and private, were also then closed down in a bid to check institutional spread.
On 23rd March, 2020, a law was passed to limit public gatherings and travel dubbed “The Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) Instrument, 2020 (E.I 64).
This law was made pursuant to the Imposition of Restrictions Act, 2020 (Act 1012) and established to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and protect public health and public safety.
It among other things restricts public gatherings such as conferences, workshops, funerals, festivals, political rallies, sporting events and sporting clubs, religious activities in churches, mosques, shrines and at crusades, conventions, pilgrimages and other religious gatherings and travel to Ghana.
COVID-19 and Workplace
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets or contact with contaminated surfaces and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure could occur at the workplace, while traveling to work, during work-related travel to an area with local and community transmission, as well as on the way to and from the workplace.
Based on this, employers begun initiating and implementing innovative measures to ensure the safety of staff and clients of their organisations by extension. These included the adoption of innovative technology to reduce overcrowding at workspaces.
The NHIA Interventions
Initially, the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) offices at the various districts and regions were often overcrowded with clients coming to either register or renew expired membership cards to enable them to enjoy free healthcare services in the various accredited health provider institutions.
Mobile Renewal Application
To address the overcrowding, Mr Samuel Lebber, the Upper West Regional Manager of the NHIA noted that the NHIA initiated the mobile renewal application which allowed members to use the *929# code to renew their membership cards.
“It was intended to provide comfort and convenience for premium members in terms of reducing the distance from their homes to the office before they could renew their cards”, he said.
Mr Lobber noted that the initiative had proven to be very effective in ensuring that their offices were decongested whilst also taking away the risk and cost aspect of it for their members.
The VSAT Initiative
He said they also have the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) satellite mounted at the various points where mobile connectivity was not strong to enable them to register members to prevent them from coming to converge at one centre leading to overcrowding and exposure to the risk of COVID-19.
Introduction of E-Claims
The NHIS have also introduced the Electronic Claims (E-Claims) services to replace the manual submission of claim forms which could expose staff to the risk of COVID-19 infection.
This he said was done through an app called Claim-IT, which according to him allowed service providers to sit at the comfort of their offices and submit claims which eliminated cost and risk while ensuring the availability of staff at the health centres.
“Our receipts are electronic. The challenge is that when people pass on things handled physically, it is a potential way of transmitting the disease”, he said.
Outreach Registration Services
He said for non premium members, they again initiated the outreach registration exercise why officers move to the hinterlands where they could have small groups of people to register rather than allowing all of them to come to their offices to create congestion and expose themselves to the risk of COVID-19 infection.
These applications according to Mr Lobber were home grown applications, emphasizing that they were developed by the NHIA staff themselves which was an indication that technology was central to the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIA) business.
“We are ensuring that our activities and office centres do not contribute in any way to the spread of the disease”, he said.
Wearing of Facemask and other Protocols
Mr Lobber said they were also ensuring their members constantly wear the facemask and in addition observe all the other protocols as well, adding that when a member visited their office, the first thing was that they have to wear their facemask and wash hands with soap under running water as well as sanitize before they could attend to the person.
He noted that from the beginning of COVID-19, they operated the shift system for morning and afternoon so that staff could observe the physical distancing protocol.
“All these are part of measures that the Authority have adopted over the period spanning from March 2020 when the disease was first reported in the country”, he said.
“If you are coming to renew your card to access healthcare, you should not expose yourself to a dangerous disease like this”, adding that, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) were available all time for staff and members coming in to use regularly to protect themselves from infection.
Negligence and cost on health financing
According to Mr Lobber, the NHIA’s response to the call by the President and the Ghana Health Service (GHS) had been taken seriously by the Authority because they believe that somebody’s negligence in observing the protocols imposed a cost burden on the health sector.
“We are very conscious about health financing because we are the biggest purchaser of health in the country and must show the way”, he said whilst stressing that they do not know the cost of treating one COVID-19 patient and how that would come to affect general healthcare delivery in the country.
Lead in Compliance
In terms of compliance with the protocols, the Regional Manager noted that the NHIA must lead the way because it was the only way to conserve resources to take care of the other health needs which were already under pressure.
Mr Lobber said it was the reason why they have installed cameras in their office premises and linked to the lead office to check both staff and members visiting any of the office premises to ensure that they observe the protocols religiously.
“This has ensured a high level of compliance with the protocols at our various offices”, he said.
Worry of the NHIA
He said the NHIA was certainly worried seeing people on the streets and other public places not observing the protocols – “This adherence in our premise is not 100 percent, so if somebody outside there is showing negligence it should be of concern to the authority”.
He said when the health facilities were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, their members would not get quality healthcare when they fall sick, noting that if government continues to pump resources into COVID-19 related issues, it would not have the free hand to channel resources into other health related issues.
“As long as people are not complying with the protocols, it will affect productivity and the NHIA is heavily financed by the National Health Insurance Levy (NHIL) which comes from the economic activities that take place in the country”, he said.
According to him, when the number of infections keeps rising, the NHIA source of funding would definitely go down.
“Any additional COVID-19 patient to the national data means an additional source of revenue being taken away to treat it. It is so disturbing that people are joking with the disease and walk about freely probably still thinking that the disease is a myth or is for some category of people”, Mr Lobber lamented.
According to him, the issue about COVID-19 was not about education and sensitization again but rather about enforcement, urging the security people to begin to arrest non-compliant individuals to serve as a deterrent to others.
“Monies spent by the government so far in the fight against COVID-19 could have been channelled into addressing other issues such as education, agriculture, and poor road network among others”, the Regional Manager said.
“As a country, we must see this as a threat to our existence and progress. If you are to love somebody, this is the time to keep distancing yourself as a way of showing your love to the person”, he said.
“The previous way of showing love to someone was for you to get close to the person and engage in gestures such as embracing and hugging, but this time, the best way to show love is to keep a distance so that the person can live for you to meet again when the disease is finally gone”, Mr Lobber added.
He said the difficulty involved in keeping a two-meter physical distance from others, wearing a facemask, washing hands with soap under running water and using hand sanitizer among other protocols could not be compared to the difficulty people living under lockdown in war thorn countries passed through and yet they do so to stay alive.
Technology is key in the fight against COVID-19 and all including public and private sector employers must find innovative ways in deploying technology to help create healthy work environment for staff and clients.
The fear of Mr Lobber is justified as COVID-19 has shaken even developed economies, hence, the need for the public to continue to observe the protocols to help reduce infections and the disease burden on the country’s economy.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 case count in the Upper West Region currently stands at 741 cases out of which 704 have been discharged while 34 people died leaving three active cases.