Health over Economics: A Clash between Recommendations by the World Health Organisation and the World bank – Which Road for Developing Economies?

About 3 months ago the word lockdown was alien to many…
At the mere thought of it..many panicked and fiercely opposed this new phenomenon threathening their rights to freedom of movement..

In the past few weeks this word has dominated global news so much that even a 3 year old now has a mere understanding what a lockdown means.
For me, what remains interesting is the interpretation and the sentiments this 2 syllable word arouses in different groups of people…

I take my country Ghana as an example…
3 weeks ago, the President officially announced a lockdown of the major cities of the country in the quest to limit the spread of the deadly Corona Virus following a spike in affected cases.
Largely, this announcement was met with divergent reactions – the majority of the middle class – those present and active on social media, with luxuries of having a home to be locked down in and the pleasure of binging on Netflix whilst tik toking – insisted a lockdown was important to protect the virus from spreading (logical to a large extent!)

Nonetheless, this was amidst the cries and dismay of sections of the population such as the family of 6 squating in a shed next door or the young mechanic from the village who sleeps in the vulganizing workshop because he cannot afford to pay the exorbitant rates charged by landlords in Accra for rental of a home to live in.
Mind you, Ghana has one of the highest urbanisation rates on the continent.

The divergent responses to a lockdown itself thus clearly throws light on the deep inequalities within our societies – a country with a huge percentage of its citizens eking a living from the informal economy with little support from the State.

Do we follow the blanket approach of a lockdown with focus on enhanced testing as reccommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) or follow the approach of a country like Tanzania whose President strongly opposes a lockdown and is commended by the World Bank who consequently warns the blanket approach of a lockdown adopted by African countries could be a real danger to already fragile economies?

I call this a clash between recommendations of institutions! A conflict and real dilemma for Governments in the quest to adopt appropriate policy measures suitable for countries.

After 3 weeks of lockdown in Ghana, the President, yesterday, unexpectedly announced lifting up restrictions on movement effective 20th April. Once again, we see divergent reactions from the public.
There is an outcry from most social media commentators (the ones who have the privilege of a roof, food and constant access to internet), whilst we see videos of street hawkers and traders jubilating at the announcement. All this is amidst a rise in numbers of confirmed cases.

Noteworthy, within the last few weeks of advanced testing and contact tracing, the cumulative number of infected cases in Ghana has risen to 1042 with 9 deaths.

Most are of the view that lifting up the ban is senseless and irresponsible of the President.

The recurring question I see is why would the President impose a lockdown at the time when the country had merely 200 cases and lift restrictions now that the country has a spike in confirmed rates standing at 1042?
The response from the President, the country is now adequately prepared and has in place enhanced measures to expediate testing and provide treatment where needed.

In my opinion, the real answer lies in the danger a lockdown poses for the economy.

In a candid oped in the Financial Times last week, the Minister of Finance of Ghana explicitly outlined the damages the 2 week lockdown had already caused to an otherwise thriving economy.

Likewise, an article by Bloomberg dated 20th April, reinforces the huge decline in figures in economic growth of the country since the last 3 years as a result of COVID-19 and response measures adopted by the Ghanaian Government.

The article reports that ‘the pandemic has brought three years of economic expansion of 6% or more to a sudden halt in the nation of 30 million people, with the finance ministry forecasting growth of 1.5%, the slowest in 37 years.”

Now the real question is whether the threats of an economic downturn as a result of a lockdown far outweighs threats to the economy associated with a viral spread of the virus if not contained and properly managed?

In my opinion, these are the real questions we should be asking ourselves.
But alas, as always we cry wolf and politicise everything without real assessment or critical analyses.

All I know is, it is tough being in authority during such challenging times and what one can do as responsible citizens is to cooperate and provide the necessary support where possible!

The stakes are high and we all have a part to play in containing this virus as well as ensuring we keep the economy moving.

A real dilemma and a challenge to all…
Let us act more responsibly!!!

 

 

Rhoda Boateng
Policy Officer
Africa Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa)
Lomé – Togo
Email: rhoda.boateng@ituc-africa.org

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