This is a guest blog by Lucky Soglo, Youth Leader for Health. Lucky advocates regularly for increased domestic resources for enhanced malaria responses and health system strengthening, through his involvement in the Youth Leaders for Health programme. The blog originally appeared on the WACI Health site.
It’s 2:30 am in the middle of the week and I can barely sleep.
I have been awake for the past hour and a half, thinking about global health. I have lost sleep over the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on other public health issues, especially malaria.
I brace myself for the day ahead. I have decided to spend the entire month of April getting to know what it is like to be a health worker during these times by volunteering with Hope for Future Generations in Accra and GCC in Takoradi. Today I will be paying visits to various health centers in the Sekondi-Takoradi district within the Western Region of Ghana. In all my interactions I ensure I adhere to all the safety protocols and ensure I am social distancing. I make sure to wear a mask, as much as it very uncomfortable sometimes, it’s important to lead by example.
I step out of the house at 8 am without getting enough sleep.
As I walk past my neighbours, I realise everyone has got a face mask on, from the market trader to the flashy banker. Wonderful. Messaging and advocacy are working here, an area where the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing steadily.
My first stop is at the out patients section of the Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital. This facility serves as the referral center for the Western Region of Ghana. I meet up with the senior nursing officer on duty. She says to me:
“As hospitals fill up and more and more people get infected daily, medical staff have to endure long hours, intensifying conditions and the looming fear of contracting the virus themselves”.
“We are at the end of our strength,” adds a doctor who came out of retirement to help at the hospital. “We do not have sufficient resources and especially staff, because apart from everything else, the staff are beginning to get sick.”
Another nurse tells me, “Rev Lucky, it’s not been easy at all, some of us, our own family members are scared to have interactions with us, our husbands are very careful when they are around us”.
You can clearly see the struggle these workers go through each day but at the same time you sense commitment and passion as they add their efforts to a national response. The Senior Nursing Officer tells me, she will do this over and over again, given the chance. Admirable.
I respond to these comments by urging the nurse and doctor to consider malaria interventions concurrent with COVID-19 because immune systems weakened by untreated malaria will struggle more with COVID-19.
Community leaders and chiefs are key stakeholders in our fight against malaria, and so I end my visit at the hospital and decide to do a follow up visit to the traditional leader, the Chief of Apremdo, a community in the Western Region that has recorded high cases of malaria in recent years. We had met earlier in March.
As we navigate through issues regarding malaria, it’s hard not to talk about the impact of COVID-19. We talk about linkages between COVID-19, malaria and malnutrition and how as he talks to the community he should emphasize good sanitation, hygiene and proper nutrition to build wellbeing and resilience in these COVID-19 times. He assures me he will.
At the end of the encounter, I realise the headway I have made, as the Chief later sets up a meeting with the Government’s malaria focal person who oversees all malaria related activities in the region. The engagement of the Chief and other community leaders is key because without them it can be difficult to involve some communities in malaria prevention programmes. His reaching out will send a strong signal.
I say goodbye, feeling a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can count on this traditional leader as an ally in health advocacy, community mobilisation and engagement.
I glance at my watch, it’s 4:45 pm and time I head home.
Not all days are filled with successes like these. A week ago, when I met the Head of the Public Health Division for the region to discuss strategies to address malaria, I was informed the Public Health Unit had suspended all malaria interventions and all attention was focused on COVID-19. Sadly this is not just a Ghana thing; it’s the current tune the entire world is singing. I will continue to follow up on these visits and the actions agreed.
As my COVID-19 journey progresses, I am learning to act like an advocate but think like a virus… What does this mean?
•Diseases ignore borders. Borders separating countries are meaningless to diseases, creating an urgent need to act both locally and globally. My voice should therefore cross borders.
•Distractions risk losing sight of real problems and that is what COVID-19 is teaching me. Whilst political disagreements are ongoing, the virus wreaks havoc everywhere. Every minute spent on arguing and blaming is a minute wasted on finding solutions. I will try to be focused at all times.
•Nothing makes a virus happier than misinformation. Confusing and inconsistent information has characterised this pandemic. Facts, clarity and consistency of information should drive my work.
I am likely to lose more sleep in my journey as a Youth Leader for Health but I am encouraged by allies, influencers and motivators I meet along the way, including the support I have received from Hope for Future Generations.
I know what it is like to lose hope, so in my life as a health advocate, I aspire to be that thread of hope for someone else.
BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE. I am doing my part, I hope you do too!
Lucky Soglo is a Pastor, Psychologist, and a Youth leader for health in Ghana. He believes that change begins with oneself, and he is driven to always be part of the solution and not the problem. He specialises in advocacy in health, youth leadership programs and activities that are geared towards building the capacity of the youth especially women and children. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.
He is very passionate about health as such he volunteers with a local nonprofit organization in his community by leading a team of other passionate youth to annually organize medical outreach programs. He also works with the community prison service to provide free counselling services, and reform programs for inmates due to his passion for mental health. He is driven by excellence, hard work, and service to a course greater than oneself.