South Africa: The Fight Against Covid-19 and South Africa's Ban On Alcohol - the Lessons for Ghana

18 November 2020

One common lesson that the whole world has learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic is to appreciate that,the health and well-being of the people are paramount over all other things. The entire world locked down its citizenry for the fear of covid-19 infection for a period as long as it thought to be unsafe to "free"them. This is certainly understandable as it resonates with the common saying that "when there is life and good health, there is certainly everything to cheer for".

Under the Covid-19 precincts, two human pursuits which have pre- occupied the minds and thoughts of people especially in modern societies suddenly vanished into the thin air; human rights and money acquisition, both sacrificed to attain one good thing, GOOD HEALTH. Many governments had even introduced legislations to limit the rights and freedoms of people obviously for the common good, protecting their ownhealth.

So,before covid-19 leaves us in peace and lest we forget all the lessons it taught us, let me reiterate a question my little girl had always queried me anytime our president, His Excellency, President Nana Akuffo Addo had come to address the nation with his melodious "fellow Ghanaians" covid-19 update. She will ask "But Daddy, why don't we address the underlying health conditions of those people who die from covid-19?

My little girl's interrogation made me to begin asking several rhetorical questions. As a nation, have we done enough to address the root causes of such health conditions? Have we not concentrated much on cure more than prevention in our health care delivery?

The example of South Africa in identifying and responding to one underlying factorstraining their health care system is a good reference point for us. The Government of South Africa having identified alcohol consumption as one of the causes of many diseases and also a source of stress on health care delivery, could not afford to allow people the luxury of drinking alcoholat the detriment of their personal health rippled into stress on national health care. The Government of South Africa accordingly banned the distribution, sale and public drinking of alcohol beverages.

Alcohol consumption is known for its harmful effects on the health of people and its strong relationship with a range of mental and behavioural disorders, other non- communicable conditions, infectious diseases and injuries.Under covid-19, it was required that people lived a healthy lifestyle and alcohol consumption was certainly not part of the equation as it is medically known to compromise the body's immune system and increases the risk of adverse health outcomes.

The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosain pronouncing are-banon alcohol related activities in the country remarked"There is now clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals including trauma and ICUs". The ban was certainly not applauded by many segments of the South African people, but the Government vowed to go with the common good: indeed, when human life and well-being are at risk, freedom and wealth acquisition occupy very little space in the discourse.

A country like Ghana certainly needs to take alcohol issues more seriously as alcohol drinking is a major cause of many health conditions including public health issues such as road accidents which according to the National Road Safety Commission is the leading cause of death in Ghana. We certainly need to prioritise matters of our health and well-being over all other considerations. We should never as a nation relent in our efforts of adopting effective regulations and implementing interventions that mitigate this serious risk factor of major sicknesses. We certainly need to do better with enforcement of the laws on alcohol especially regulations contained in the Public Health Act (2012).We also need to be more mindful of World Health Organisation'sdirectives to all countries to protect its population especially the vulnerable against the harmful use of alcohol.

Even though as a country we have made some efforts in minimising the harmful effects of alcohol consumption, there is still much more to be done. We need to boldly enforce existing regulations and restrictions especially in the area of marketing/advertisement of alcoholic beverages.Regulations are certainly weak and enforcement largely relaxed. Five years after the adoption of a National Alcohol Policy (NAP) which was launched by the Ministry of Health and the WHO with supports from civil society led by the National Coalition of NGOs in Health and the Baraka Policy Institute, as social policy Think Tank as well as the Alcohol industry, very little is known about the policy with virtually no public discussions on it. The NAP provides a certain regulatory framework on production, marketing and consumption of alcoholic beverages aimed at minimising the harmful use of alcohol in Ghana. Unfortunately, it appears nothing exists as both the alcohol industry and the informal sector in the alcohol trail continue to produce, promote and aggressively advertise alcoholic beverages against compromised and non-enforced alcohol regulations. A legislative instrument (LI) which is required to be developed by Government to give alcohol regulations stronger legal command and enforcement has been left in the state of stagnancy for a long period of time. It is critical at these times for our nation to take the health of our people more seriously by enforcing regulations and promulgating robust legal regimes to tackle the menace of alcohol consumption in Ghana.

BY ADAM YUNUS

More From: Ghanaian Times

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