The coat they religiously and proudly wear is white;
A colour which represents purity, innocence and light,
But the hearts of some are as black as the sky on a moonless night
For, though their deeds risk lives, they do so with delight.
Their slogans mean nothing;
Their pockets precede everything.
Give them something
And they will do anything.
So, we took their sample;
A bit of their integrity, for example
To test under our microscope
And the result is in this ‘envelope’
Kofi’s confidence at the Dubai International Airport in April was buoyed by the fragrance of the cologne on his body and his Covid-19 test result. The Covid-19 test result was negative.
But it ought to have been positive.
His mind went back to the day he had tested positive ahead of this trip with his friends to Dubai. The trip was in danger of being derailed. Instead of partying in Dubai, he was now supposed to be isolating in his room. He had spent weeks, saving and planning for this trip. He had spent nights, mentally constructing images of fun and enjoyment that awaited them.
When the time came, however, he was mandated to test for COVID-19 before he could travel. He tested positive for the virus and was about to kiss his dream goodbye.
Joining a queue at the airport, he handed his test results over to a staff trained to flash a wide smile almost permanently at anyone. The staff scanned his COVID-19 test result. Kofi looked good to go.
Dubai’s COVID-19 policy required that he took another test.
This was when it dawned on Kofi that, perhaps, the farthest he would ever get in Dubai was the city’s airport bathroom he used immediately he had landed.
While his confidence-enhancing cologne was manufactured in Germany, this confidence-boosting COVID-19 test result was cooked in a laboratory in Ghana—at the Jubilee House Clinic. This is the clinic that serves staff at the seat of Ghana’s Presidency—the Jubilee House.
From this seat of government, Ghanaians had watched President Nana Akufo-Addo address the nation at least once every month on the government’s fight against COVID-19 since the country recorded its first case in March 2020.
During his 26th update delivered on Sunday, July 25, 2021, President Akufo-Addo officially confirmed that Ghana was experiencing a third wave of infections. The highly-contagious Delta variant had been detected at the country’s ports of entry. By June 2021, six cases had been found. Ghana’s monthly case count was rising, again.
Months after restrictions had been eased, people were beginning to get their lives back—working and travelling. The pandemic, which had become the biggest disruptor of everyday life in living memory, was making comeback.
But a health professional in the fight against COVID-19, who wanted to remain anonymous had a worry. He told The Fourth Estate that lurking under the belly of the rising cases was something sinister.
The source said he was beginning to see strange results.
“Results were being tampered,” he claimed. “Positives were becoming negatives and negatives were becoming positives too quickly,” he said. He had found out that it was not due to miracles or medicine but money.
“Positives were turning negatives so that some people could still travel. Negatives were also turning into positives so that some workers could get several days off work,” he explained.
He mentioned Frontiers Healthcare Services Ltd, the only COVID-19 testing center authorised to do mandatory testing at Ghana’s only international airport, as one of the places this occurred.
When Jordan Nti (not his real name) arrived at Frontiers Healthcare Services Ltd on October 6, 2021, he explained to a protocol attendant that he needed to travel to the USA by KLM. His flight was on October 12, 2021, but he had tested positive for COVID-19 and desperately needed a negative test certificate.
The attendant was in a reflector embossed with the initials of the company – FHS. He gave his name as Clinton. The Fourth Estate confirmed that he was part of the company’s WhatsApp platform, “FHS-PAA General platform.” The initials, we learned, stood for “Frontiers Healthcare Services Ltd – PCR Antigen and Antibodies”.
“We can do something about it,” Clinton did not flinch at the unusual request. “With USA, all you need is a negative test. You won’t be tested on arrival,” he claimed, “but it’s a risky thing I am going to do. I can work on it so take my number.”
“Call me at 12:30p.m.,” he said. Clinton explained he needed to consult an insider to produce the fake results.
No sample was taken, but he had been assured that a negative test result would be ready by Monday, October 10, 2021.
Jordan visited the facility on Monday, October 11, 2021, to take the negative results.
When Jordan got to Frontiers, Clinton was not readily available because he was not on duty. He promised to get him the certificate later in the day.
At 6:35 p.m., just as promised, Clinton arrived at Frontiers and called Jordan to deliver the certificate.
He was asked to pay GH₵900 (equivalent of $147) This was about three times the cost of a normal PCR test in Ghana. Clinton said GH₵300 (equivalent of $49) was for producing the results, while GH₵600 (equivalent of $98) was for the risk involved in producing the results.
Jordan, in fulfilling his part of the bargain, tried transferring money to Clinton through mobile money, but, as fate will have it, several attempts to do that failed.
Clinton eventually provided the mobile phone number of his colleague, Richard Ampah, whom he claimed was involved in the deal. Richard’s number was used for the payment of the money.
Three days after Jordan received his COVID-19 test certificate, he made a WhatsApp call to Richard Ampah, Clinton’s alleged partner. Jordan wanted another fake COVID-19 test certificate for a friend. Richard said Jordan could give his (Richard’s number) to his friend who wanted the negative test certificate.
The following day, a member of The Fourth Estate team called Richard and introduced himself as the one Jordan had spoken about in the WhatsApp call. Richard feigned ignorance and denied the existence of any such deal.
The Fourth Estate’s second undercover agent, Derek (not his real name) tested positive for COVID-19 on October 12, 2021. Three days later, he went to Frontiers Healthcare Services Ltd. at the airport to see Richard Ampah.
He told Richard about an earlier request for a negative test certificate in reference to Jordan’s call to Richard. But for the second time, Richard denied knowledge about the scheme.
“He was telling me that someone came here and he was positive and I changed his result to negative so I told him here we don’t do that,” Richard said of Jordan’s call.
When Richard was confronted with the payment for the fake COVID-19 result fee into his mobile money account, he admitted he received the money. But he said the payment could be for the suits he sold to Clinton.
“That is what I am saying. I can’t remember, but then even if he did, I have already told you that I sell things. I sell suits so, even if he did, he sent it in the name of Clinton for the suit he [Clinton] bought from me. You know I told you he bought a suit of ₵1000,” (equivalent of $162)he added.
After receiving the first negative certificate from Frontiers, The Fourth Estate engaged another undercover agent to see the possibility of obtaining another negative test certificate.
The undercover agent, Derek, in a phone call with Clinton, the Frontiers staff who had helped Jordan secure a false COVID-19 certificate, assured Derek of getting the certificate in a few hours.
In about two hours, Clinton called. The result was ready.
An amount of GH₵900 (equivalent of $146) exchanged hands and another fake COVID-19 negative test was produced at the departure section of the Frontiers Healthcare Services.
Clinton took the payment for the second test result in cash. He took it inside his vehicle.
Frontiers was not the only place that COVID-19 test results could be changed.
Location: Jubilee House Clinic
Date: Friday, October 15, 2021
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Purpose: Change of COVID-19 result
Edward [not his real name] works at a travel agency in Accra. But when he began to notice an unusual headache and frighteningly dry cough, he feared it might be COVID-19. It was. He found out at a private testing laboratory in Accra.
The Fourth Estate contacted him to help confirm reports of falsification of test results at the Jubilee House Clinic. He obliged.
When he walked into the Jubilee House clinic, he spoke to the receptionist to find out how he could have his result changed. The request did not appear odd. What the receptionist found alarming, was a COVID-19 patient breathing in front of his unmasked face.
‘Go and wash your hands!’ he barked, perhaps, out of fear that his immediate environment could be alive with the infectious virus.
The receptionist handed Edward over to a staff of the facility, Mubarak, a lanky man in his mid-twenties, nose-masked. He wore a white lab coat.
In order to issue the ‘negative’ test certificate, Mubarak said he needed to see Edward’s passport to confirm his passport number, which would then be used to produce the fake results. All travelers need to have a passport number on their COVID-19 test results. He also requested GH₵500 (equivalent of $80) to falsify the COVID-19 result.
Edward did not have a passport with him. Just his GH₵500(equivalent of $80). And though, he left to go home for his passport, he did not leave with his money. Mubarak collected it as fees for the illegal service.
Ten minutes later, Edward sent his passport via WhatsApp to Mubarak.
At about 5:44 p.m. on October 15, 2021, Edward’s phone blinked with a familiar tone of a WhatsApp message. It was his ‘negative’COVID-19 test in a PDF format.
Three hours after GH₵500 (equivalent of $80) changed hands, his COVID-19 status had changed. His symptoms had not. He was still coughing. His chest pains persisted, and he was in some discomfort as he ordered an Uber home. No sample had been collected, but on paper, Edward was healthy.
In that fraudulently obtained test result, a QR code was embossed on the certificate but it would later be found to be fake.
The test result was printed on a letterhead with the name of the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) Clinic Covid Testing Centre Lab.
A lawyer for the testing lab told The Fourth Estate that the details of that result was not found in their system when they checked. He said the GIS Covid-19 lab had not authorised anybody at the Jubilee House Clinic to take samples or tests on its behalf.
Screenshot of a text message from Mubarak, a staff of Jubilee House Clinic, who altered the COVID-19 result for Derek.
Frontiers denies falsification of evidence
There were at least eight officials in the conference room at Frontiers Healthcare Services Ltd., waiting to meet a three-member team from The Fourth Estate. That meeting followed a letter submitted to the organisation to obtain a response on the findings from the investigations conducted to be able to produce a fair and balanced report.
The Fourth Estate could identify the Managing Director of the Frontiers Healthcare Services, Kudzo Seneadza; the Chief of Staff, Haffner Onochie; the Laboratory Manager, Solomon Quaye; and the only female present, the Administrator introduced as Juliet.
No mobile phones were allowed into that October 25 meeting. But in that meeting, the
Chief of Staff of Frontiers Healthcare Services Ltd, Haffner Onochie, denied the involvement of any of his Staff in the falsification of COVID-19 Certificates.
“What your letter alleged is not from here. It’s not from here. That should be the take away, okay? I will vehemently say it that it is not a staff of Frontiers that is involved,” he said.
The Managing Director of the institution, Kudzo Seneadza, said that their PanaBios database could not capture any information of the two persons who had claimed to have received false certificates from some staff of the facility.
They also claimed that the test results The Fourth Estate had did not have a QR code, which the company claimed was a standard security feature of their test results.
The Fourth Estate has sighted an authentic test result from Frontiers’ which has features just as the falsified ones issued to our undercover agents by some staff of Frontiers. It had no QR Code. The signature and stamp are the same as the ones on the results obtained by our undercover agents.
A Deputy Chief Biomedical Scientist at the Immunology and Cell Biology Department of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Seth Agyemang said no laboratory generates a QR code until the test results of a traveller is entered into the PanaBios after which the PanaBios generates the QR code.
This means a person can obtain a true certificate and still not have a QR code on it. What this means is that if the lab does not enter the details of the results into the PanaBios, a QR code cannot be generated, even if the results are genuine from a lab.
According to the website of the Ghana Embassy in Washington DC, the PanaBios is an African Union-backed digital platform designed to authenticate COVID-19 test results. It was introduced in Ghana in March 2021, to reduce the high incidence of fake COVID-19 test results. When a traveller gets a COVID-19 test, the result is uploaded on this platform which would allow officials at the airport to confirm the authenticity of the traveller’s test result.
Authentication of fake COVID-19 result outside Ghana
At the Dubai International Airport, beads of sweat broke over Kofi’s face. The negative test certificate he bought had been checked. But now, he needed to do another test to satisfy the authorities.
After several hours on a flight from Kotoka, landing in Dubai, a new test confirmed he was indeed COVID-19 positive.
He told The Fourth Estate he had paid GH₵700 (equivalent of $113) to get his COVID-19 positive result falsified at the Jubilee House Clinic. It worked well enough for him to board a flight. But it wasn’t enough to guarantee his free pass into Dubai. Kofi had to observe a mandatory quarantine in Dubai.
The Dubai airport authorities did not deport him. He was given drugs to be taken inside his hotel. He eventually recovered in Dubai.
Meanwhile, the Office of the President has taken an interest in the matter and said it is investigating further. The Chief Director at the Office of the President, H.M Wood, wrote for further information when The Fourth Estate reached out to the Jubilee House Clinic for a response.
The Office of the President has reported the findings of their preliminary investigations to a state security agency for further investigations and action.
The full video documentary of the report will be published tomorrow, December 10, 2021.
This report is part of the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: together for Reliable Information, funded by the European Union.
The writer can be reached via mail on [email protected]
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