By Charles Ayitey
I had finished presenting the nightly business news on the Joy News Channel, with masks on – sanitising my hands at each vantage point up to the newsroom, I felt something was off. A bout of chills, a sudden loss of smell – unexpected, sudden!
Heavily informed about the coronavirus, as typical of a journalist, I dashed home, munched on some flakes of ginger, got some vitamin C and went off to bed. The next morning, the sudden loss of taste had gravitated to a loss of smell.
It was like I was in a world of my own – couldn’t sense the harsh fragrance of my bathing soap, the aroma of my favourite rice, and Palava Sauce (for breakfast). That was it for me! I knew there then, I had been exposed.
Committed to not being a super spreader, I rushed to the Nyaho Medical Center where private PCR testing for the coronavirus was busily underway at a designated section of the hospital.
“I’m here to test for Covid, I lost my sense of smell and taste. Any directions?” I inquired of this medical assistant in blue apparel, protected with just a facemask. He looked overwhelmed by the huge number of walk-in patients flooding the covid center for a PCR Test.
“We can’t test, for now, you should have been here before 9 am. What we are doing now is for those traveling and need a confirmation test,” he submitted. He left me there and then. He had to attend to these walk-in patients, many of whom were expatriates.
The selective priority at the Nyaho Medical Center stunned me a bit, but well, I reckoned as private a hospital they were, they may have the remits to execute this selective mode – though unjustified.
There I was, desperate to have my samples taken no matter the cost. Speaking of cost – I had to cough up between ¢500 to ¢700 for a PCR test if I was to receive it in 48 or 24 hours. That was the deal! Leaving the premises of Nyaho Clinic with obvious symptoms of Covid-19, well, was not much of a concern.
“Are you saying I need to return tomorrow, but I am symptomatic, what if I infect others?” I asked the medical assistant in frustration. His answer, “please come early tomorrow.” – that was it! In a taxi on my way to the next available hospital, I wondered what in a world Ghana’s real response to the Coronavirus is. Here I was, adding another layer of the facemask to what I already had on with the fear of infecting the cab driver who whatnot in a mask.
“I need to breathe in the fresh air. Masks make me feel like I’m suffocating, this virus is even for the whites, not us,” he told me in Twi. My next stop was the Trust Hospital at Osu in Accra. I was impressed by their response to the virus. Before making your way to the Outpatients Department (OPD), you first wash your hands with soap under running water at a section with 5 huge Veronica Buckets.
Just at the entrance of the OPD is a bubbly nurse who takes the temperature of walk-in patients. She proceeds to take contact details and inquiries of any signs of headaches, loss of smell or taste, chest pains, or cough. All these are done before stepping foot at the OPD.
“I’m here for a Covid test, I lost my sense of taste and smell,” I told her. “How soon do you want your results,” she asked.
How soon, how in the world will any person with a suspected case of Covid want their results months after testing, how could delayed results deal with the spread of virus especially when isolation centers just can’t make up for the numbers of undetected cases?
Well, her question was premised on the strength of my pocket, yet again. To get my PCR results on time, I had to pay 440 cedis for a 24-hour test against 340 cedis for a 48-hour test. I chose the latter – considering the “strength of my pocket” at that instance!
After waiting for about 30 minutes for my receipt ( nurses said “our systems are down”), I proceeded to the cordoned Covid-19 lab to have my samples taken. It was a nasal swab done by a well-trained technician who walked me through the uncomfortable experience of having a long nasal swab poked down the back of my nostrils. It was done in an instant, my sample was taken, finally!
On Tuesday, I received a mail confirming my positive for Covid-19. It was swift. I subsequently received a call from one of the SSNIT Hospital about the need to isolate and either come for my medication or send someone for it. Nothing was said about contact tracing, nothing. My medication was not free. I had to pay with my private insurance.
It has been days of isolation and thankfully, I am recovering well. But my mind is not at rest. For the millions of Ghanaians who may want to walk into any hospital and test for the virus, one may wonder if the quest to get tested voluntarily is possible.
Yes, Ghana has conducted more than 370,000 tests between March and mid-July – making it one of the economies in Africa with most tests per 100,000 population; but as against a population of 30 million and with the potential spread of this virus, Ghana must build a strong mandatory and voluntary testing regime at least each Ghanaian is entitled to (in a worst-case scenario), a free voluntary PCR test.
Costing access to a PCR test does us a disservice in the “test test test!” advocacy by the World Health Organisation.
What happened to cheaper rapid testing? The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates over 17.5 million tests have so far been conducted since the Pandemic struck. Even Though Ghana is being lauded for its management of the Covid-19 spread, testing capacity is still on the average not just in the country but across the continent.
While PCR tests are considered the gold standard, African countries have faced challenges in accessing adequate quantities of reagents, because of global competition and because they are expensive, said Dr. Susan Ndidde Nabadda, head of the Ugandan National Health Laboratory Services and Central Public Health Laboratory, during a press briefing.
The World Health Organization believes that rapid diagnostic tests “could be a game-changer” in the fight against Covid-19 across the continent”. This will expand the access to mandatory and voluntary testing in addition to the PCR test thus, painting the true representation of the scale and gravity of Covid infections and maintenance.
The writer is a journalist based in Accra.