The first two cases of the COVID-19 pandemic were reported in Ghana on March 12.
Three days later, the government took some measures to stop the spread of the virus. They closed down all schools, suspended all public gatherings, including religious activities, conferences and workshops.
Contact tracing and increased testing found many positive cases, and the numbers started increasing every day.
With these spikes, the government announced on March 27 a partial lockdown of Accra, Tema, Kasua and Kumasi for three weeks. In addition, all land and sea borders, as well as all schools, have been closed.
Since then, every student is at home and accessibility to learning avenues has shrunk. It is nonexistent for rural populations, especially in northern Ghana.
Even though some schools have tried teaching their students through distance learning, many cannot access it due to limited internet availability and associated costs.
Despite these efforts, as of May 22 there were nearly 6,500 recorded cases and the number keeps increasing. While almost 2,000 have recovered, 31 have died.
Following the president’s lockdown announcement on March 27, we began to see some of the challenges emerging.
Thousands of head porters, popularly known as “Kayayei,” rushed back to their hometowns to escape the partial lockdown and the hardship it would impose on them.
This is a primary occupation of many younger women in lower-income households. Many head porters live in the northern part of the country and migrate south to earn wages by transporting goods on their heads from houses and farms to markets, and within the market to vehicles.
This has been one of the main sources of income for their families in the north, and their livelihoods were obviously not taken into consideration when the partial lockdown was being planned. This created panic among households in most communities of northern Ghana.
As a result of the lockdown, the local economy collapsed and alternative sources of income shrunk, making access to basic sources of livelihoods extremely difficult for many populations.
Cost of food has increased in recent months, and many families have to share with others just to keep body and soul together.
No survey has been carried out to ascertain the extent of this but given that many people have lost their jobs in the informal sector and hospitality industry, the impact could be great.
In the area of health, there has been a decrease in hospital attendance and cessation of elective surgeries.
Doctors see only patients with critical conditions or emergencies. People are also avoiding hospital visits for common cold or other sicknesses for fear of the virus.
The impact on the church and spiritual activities is also enormous. Socially, we are unable to meet physically and enjoy fellowship with one another.
Financially, contributions have dropped for the past nine weeks of not meeting publicly for worship.
Preaching, teaching and ministering to our congregants has been challenging.
We reach out to our congregational members by recorded sermons and Bible studies, as well as providing prayer guides through the WhatsApp platform.
For those who cannot access these resources, we check on them through regular phone calls.
We have encouraged parents to take up the responsibility of ministering to their children since they are out of school and church.
Even though the government has rolled out a social intervention plan to cushion the impact of the pandemic on the lives of Ghanaians, especially the poor populations, this is concentrated in Accra and there are rumors of political undertones.
The government has absorbed the cost of water by 100% and electricity by 50% for three months (from May to June 2020) for everyone in Ghana, which is a relief.
In northern Ghana, some livelihoods have been lost and alternative employment opportunities for people are extremely limited.
Some businesses will likely never reopen, and nearly everyone in the hospitality industry is now unemployed.
The impact is even more serious because the pandemic occurred just at the start of the hunger gap (usually between April and June) when people would have been preparing to farm their lands for the next season.
In these challenging times, my wife and I saw the need of ministering to some needy people inside and outside of our church by sharing the little food we had.
Later, Koinonia Baptist Church, the church I pastor in Tamale, came in and supported about 22 families, targeting the elderly and vulnerable.
In both February and March, the cost of many staple food items increased by an average of 3.8%, according to Esoko, a social enterprise company in Ghana that shares market prices via short message service, or SMS, to smallholder farmers on development projects.
In April, Esoko reported the average increase more than tripled to 12.2%.
With the lockdown continuing, there is a growing need to support many other deprived and needy families, something that will become even more challenging due to the rising food costs.