Cheryl Walker and Son, Steven J. Smith, on boatride

Cheryl Walker and Son, Steven J. Smith, take a boatride.

Cheryl Walker, a retired real estate investor and financial specialist, wasn’t particularly concerned about the coronavirus as she prepared for her 10-day vacation to Elmina, Ghana. She had been planning the trip since March and did the necessary research. Walker knew that Ghana is one of the African nations that has been praised for its effective COVID-19 strategies.

Cheryl Walker and her son Steven

Cheryl Walker and her son Steven.

Ghana and other African nations, including South Africa, have been heralded by health officials for taking early, decisive action that initially appear to have COVID-19 under control. Ghana’s population of 30.4 million is about 10 percent of America’s 328 million residents. Yet, its confirmed 1,084 deaths from the disease are proportionately lower than America’s more than 650,000 coronavirus deaths.

“Africa learned ‘what it takes’ the hard way during the Ebola crisis,” Hafez Ghanem, World Bank Vice-President for Africa, said early last year.

Because of the Ebola outbreak in 2014, many African countries were prepared to deploy widespread safety measures such as early testing, travel bans, closing schools, and borders and limiting public gatherings.

Cheryl Walker and her son Steven Walker

Cheryl Walker and her son Steven.

COVID-19 infection numbers are rising in Africa due to the Delta variant. But late last year, the World Health Organizations (WHO) praised several African nations, including Ghana, for quickly rolling out doses of vaccines and routine immunization programs when vaccines became available.

Although Walker was comfortable traveling to Ghana during the pandemic, she wasn’t prepared for the rigid and costly protocol to enter the African nation.

Before boarding a flight to Amsterdam, she was required to have a negative test result within 42 hours of boarding. The problem was that it would take 72 hours to get from America to Ghana. So, another test had to be scheduled online before she could leave Amsterdam’s airport for Ghana. She scrambled to meet the protocol, but the total $300 in COVID-testing costs was unexpected.

Cheryl Walker and Son, Steven J. Smith in Ghana

Cheryl Walker and Son, Steven J. Smith, at a food mart in Elmina, Ghana.

Once she arrived in Accra Ghana, she presented her online registration, got tested again and received the green light to leave the airport.

“Ghana don’t play with COVID,” Walker stated.

Walker said she encountered a few people who espoused conspiracy theories and expressed fears about taking vaccines. But like in the U.S., health officials have waged a concerted war against misinformation that has, for the most part, started in western nations and found fertile ground in Africa.

She noted mask and hand-washing stations everywhere, portable disinfection fogging units at hotels and other public places, social distancing requirements and restaurants where soap, and a dish of hot water came with every meal.

“What I heard repeatedly was, ‘Here in Ghana, we take COVID seriously.’ They (Ghanaians) feel like we’re crazy because we (Americans) don’t take it seriously. One man told me, in the states, ‘you guys made it political.’”

That comment was a revelation of sorts to Walker. She realized that Americans, unlike Africans, have the liberty to dismiss, downplay and rebel against science and measures aimed at containing the disease. Mostly because of political influence.

Public officials have noted how the “politicization” of COVID-19 in America and other European countries has fueled stubborn resistance to health measures. President Donald Trump’s downplaying of the deadly disease early last year was but one part of the damaging political and societal mix that led to high rates of infections.

Last year, US National Library of Medicine Media Study released a study that examined the level of politicization and polarization in COVID-19 news coverage. The analysis showed that both newspaper and network news are “highly politicized and polarized,” noting how politicians appear more frequently than scientists, especially in newspaper coverage.

Walker said her trip provided insightful revelations about the need to respect science.

“A tour guide I met was shocked when I told him some Americans walk around without masks,” Walker recalled.

“I was told before I went that I was going to learn the meaning of respect. In Ghana, they respect their ministers, doctors, and people of authority. If they say, ‘we need to do it this way,’ Ghanaians simply say ‘OK.’ We can learn a lot from them.”

The trip, Walker adds, was also life-affirming. She marveled at the inherent adult protectiveness and the seemingly carefree lifestyles of children. She was surprised by the absence of the homeless and how food was just a banana or coconut tree away. She remembers how “snacks” sold in gas stations or convenience stores were natural, unprocessed commodities, not sugary or chemical-laced treats like in America.

Mostly, though, her take-away is that America needs to take COVID and its science-based remedies more seriously. Walker’s husband, daughter and nephew had the coronavirus but survived. She feels the country needs to stop tolerating the misinformation spread by anti-vaxxers and the stubborn attitudes of vaccine-hesitant Americans.

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