FACT-CHECK: Health Minister’s claim about Ghana’s COVID-19 management completely false

Date:

On Wednesday, February 9, 2022, the Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, at a press briefing in Accra, said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had assessed Ghana among the best countries in the world in COVID-19 management.

The minister said WHO ranked Ghana top together with South Korea as the countries that managed COVID-19 well across the globe, but the media had not been reporting the feat by the government.

The claim that Ghana is among the best managers of the pandemic in the world has been previously made by some members of the government. Last year at the reading of the budget statement, Ken Ofori-Atta, finance minister, made a similar statement.

Two weeks ago, while opening the 73rd new year school of the University of Ghana, President Akufo-Addo made a similar claim. Fact-check Ghana verified the president’s claim.

President Akufo-Addo made a similar claim when he opened the new year school of the University of Ghana

Fact-Check Ghana has independently verified the health minister’s claim and provide the details:

Claim: “Let us put it on record, and I will always continue to say this: media houses are not talking about this at all. WHO assessment sometime last year indicated that the two countries on the globe that got COVID management right were Ghana and South Korea. And it is evidenced in a lot of things that we are doing.”

Verdict: Completely False

Explanation: The World Health organisation says it does not compare the strategies different countries have adopted to manage the pandemic because it is difficult to compare.

In verifying the claim, Fact-Check Ghana wrote to the WHO to ascertain if it had indeed assessed the management of COVID-19 among countries and had indicated Ghana and South Korea as have got it right.

In response to the enquiry, Carlan Drysdale, WHO Communications Officer, directed Fact-Check Ghana to a news conference held by her organization on January 18, 2022. At the press conference, the WHO addressed the issue of comparing the approaches of different nations in combating COVID-19.

At that press conference, Mike Rydan, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, responded to a journalist’s query, saying it was impossible to compare COVID-19 methods from different nations. Here is what he said:

“I think we have to be careful when we try to compare strategies because very often, the starting conditions of this pandemic set up the opportunities that countries had. So, for example, many countries in Asia took a very aggressive position at the beginning and kept numbers very low so a zero-COVID policy was open to them because they had good control on the virus.

“Other countries really got caught, blind-sided by the virus and had very large and extensive transmission so it was very difficult for them to think in terms of zero-COVID because, in fact, many, many countries have never been out of COVID. They’ve gone from high levels of COVID to slightly lower levels, maybe to low levels at times and straight back up so we’ve had these progressive waves.

He added: “So I think it’s very difficult to say that one country’s strategy is the right versus the wrong. Countries’ strategy in the face of the virus is based on what the country is experiencing, what the opportunities are for the country”.

Thus, it is false that WHO has assessed Ghana and South Korea as having got COVID-19 management right.

Origin of Ghana and South Korea best COVID-19 management claim

Despite the fact that WHO has said that comparing the techniques and strategies used by countries to combat the epidemic is challenging, some scholars and organisations, including news organisations, have created rankings and assessments based on their own criteria.

One of the many assessments on how countries responded to the pandemic was published by a team of researchers led by Darren Lilleker, a professor of political communication at Bournemouth University. It was published in a book titled “Political Communication and COVID-19 Governance and Rhetoric in Times of Crisis”. This was the study that ranked Ghana and South Korea top. It is possibly the ranking the health minister falsely attributed to the WHO in his speech at a press briefing in Accra on Wednesday, February 9, 2022.

Prof Lilleker, in an article explaining the methodology of their publications,  stated that the research was  a “comparative study of how 27 countries responded to the emergence of the virus and first wave, and how they communicated that response to their citizens.”

He further added that the researchers “invited national experts to analyse their government’s communication style, the flow of information on coronavirus and the actions taken by civil society, mapping these responses onto the numbers of cases and deaths in the country in question.”

Thus, the ultimate objective of the study by the researchers was to assess how governments across 27 countries communicated to citizens during the period of the first wave of COVID-19.

Indeed, the researchers observed that President Akufo-Addo’s communication through his regular updates on COVID-19 determined Ghana’s position on the ranking.

“Akufo-Addo took responsibility for coronavirus policy and explained carefully each measure required, being honest about the challenges the nation faced. Simple demonstrations of empathy earned him acclaim within his nation and also around the world,” Prof. Lilleker explained in the article.

Therefore, the ranking by Prof Darren Lilleker and the team of researchers did not aim at conducting a holistic assessment of the entire government response to the pandemic but focused specifically on the rhetoric and style of communication the government adopted to engage citizens during the period.

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