How Ghana’s COVID-19 unreadiness got top doctor killed

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How Ghana’s COVID-19 unreadiness got top doctor killed
How Ghana’s COVID-19 unreadiness got top doctor killed

Attempts by the Presidential Advisor on Health, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare to project the Akufo-Addo government as having tried to save the life of the renowned physician, Prof Jacob Plange-Rhule from the crushing jaws of COVID-19, by dispatching the Presidential jet to Kenya to buy an essential drug for his treatment, has collapsed, with revelations that the trip to Kenya, was rather delayed.

The Herald’s investigations into the death of the Rector of Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, have also established government’s lack of preparedness for COVID-19 and revealed how Ghanaians are being treated with too much talk by state actors, who claim to be fighting the global pandemic on.

The Herald’s information from the University of Ghana Medical Centre where the late, Prof Plange-Rhule was being treated, reveals that his emergency physicians had requested for Actemra, a drug used in the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis to be administered on their colleague, but for four days the drug could not be purchased for his treatment leading to the loss of that great brain.

Insiders said, hospital authorities had alerted the government’s team on the COVID-19 about the ex-Ghana Medical Association President’s worsening health and an urgent need for the Actemra. The treatment team had told the government that upon their research, the drug could be gotten from either Kenya or South Africa but it took days before the medicine arrived in Ghana, and by which time Prof. Plange-Rhule, had died.

Interestingly, 18 days before Prof. Plange-Rhule’s death, the Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, was on Tuesday, 24 March 2020, quoted as confessing that the Akufo-Addo government cannot say it has put up every measure needed to fight the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the country because it came at an unexpected time with no budgetary allocation.

However, Mr. Oppong Nkrumah’s subsequent narrative on the BBC Focus on Africa Show on April 3, 2020, about Ghana’s preparedness painted a different image from what he had painted on Accra-based UTV’s ‘Mpu ne Mpu’ programme, on Friday, March 23, 2020.

Amazingly, on the BBC programme, the Information mentioned “I think with the benefit of time ahead of us what we did was to put in place an elaborate system for tracing and testing, so that when we find positive cases, we were able to aggressively through the Ghana Health Services provide the necessary level of treatment. They have a number of drugs and protocols that they use to treat persons who have tested positive. So that aggressive response early on, that has enabled us to have at least have currently I think about 49 people who have been discharged to go home and have an opportunity to be managed from home. And 3 persons who have fully recovered. What that means is that they have tested negative now after a series of tests after treatment. About 138 persons are also responding to treatment very”.

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The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Daniel Asare, also ahead of Ghana’s outbreak, had claimed that the dreaded Wuhan coronavirus isn’t likely to survive in Africa.

Meaning the country’s health system was not prepared for the COVID-19 although China, Italy, Spain, Norway and several European countries had recorded thousands of deaths from the Pandemic with World Health Organization (WHO) warnings its member countries to be alert.

Indeed, colleague medical officers, friends as well as family sources, told The Herald that Prof Plange-Rhule would have been alive if the Actemra drug, had been gotten early for his treatment or had the Akufo-Addo government adopted the preemptive measure by getting the drug to Ghana in preparation for the Coronavirus outbreak.

Health experts have explained to The Herald that Actemra, was key in the treatment of COVID-19 in China and many other countries where the outbreak has been severe, therefore the Ghanaian government especially that in-charge of the Ghana Health Service, should have prepared by acquiring the medicine and other, to save the lives of persons including Prof. Plange-Rhule, who needed it.

Internet searches by The Herald revealed the cost of Actemra, as $1,610.497 at full price, however, the cost for Actemra intravenous solution (20 mg/mL) is around $491 for a supply of 4 milliliters, depending on the pharmacy one is buying from.

Other sources within the medical fraternity told The Herald, that the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is recuperating from COVID-19 after spending days in the Intensive Care Unit of St Thomas’ Hospital in London, was on Actemra and convalescent serum. They hold the view that but for these medicines, Mr. Johnson would have died.

Over the weekend, the Presidential Advisor on Health, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare had disclosed that government did all it could to save the life of renowned physician Prof Jacob Plange-Rhule who was being treated for COVID-19.

Prof Plange-Rhule in the early hours of Friday, April 10, succumbed to complications from the disease at the University of Ghana Medical Centre where he was on admission. But speaking on Joy News’ news analysis programme, Newsfile, Dr Nsiah-Asare said Prof Plange-Rhule’s doctor requested for Actemra, but Actemra until after the request, had not been licensed for use in Ghana.

The only place they could get the drug, Dr Nsiah-Asare indicated, was either in Kenya or South Africa.

For this to be done, the President’s advisor said instruction from higher authority was needed, so President Akufo-Addo was contacted, and he immediately released the Presidential Jet to be used to get the drug into the country as soon as possible.

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“We used the Presidential Jet within a matter of 24 hours to and bring the drug but unfortunately by the time it reached here, my good friend was gone,” Dr Nsiah-Asare said.

Prof Plunge-Rhule’s death has hit the medical profession hard. He was a teacher and mentored many doctors in the country.

President Akufo-Addo is not taking this loss or any of the five other COVID-19 deaths lightly.

Dr Nsiah-Asare disclosed that efforts are already being made to license Actemra for the treatment of coronavirus in Ghana.

He said if the drug is administered to coronavirus patients early enough, they will not need ventilators and government is moving to ensure that vials of it are made available in the country in the shortest possible time.

“We are getting some vials to keep and give it to people who are close to the critical phase so they won’t need ventilators,” he indicated.

Before Dr Nsiah-Asare’s claims, the Minister of Information, Oppong Nkrumah, had disclosed that the emergency allocated funds from the 2020 budget statement cannot meet the expenses made with respect to the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, hence the $100 million cash set aside to enhance the fight.

The NPP MP for Ofoase-Ayirebi Constituency in the Eastern region, however, explained that every allocated fund with respect to COVID-19 will soon be accounted for by the finance minister since he has no concrete information at the moment. “…We can not say all is perfect but we have now beef-up our preparedness towards COVID-19 because it came up unexpectedly just as other countries are as well struggling to get preventive measures. Finance minister will soon account for every lost made since I don’t have figures to that effect,” he said.

In a one-on-one interview with the Information Minister on UTV’s ‘Mpu ne Mpu’, March 23, 2020, had indicated Ghana had not yet reached the emergency stage of the disease and will not get there if every citizen keeps to the preventive measures laid down.

“We are in good standing but need to strictly go by the precautionary measures laid out. We have not gotten to the lock downstage and let’s pray we don’t get there, because it will seize everything in the country, it is the last option too,” he added.

Kojo Oppong Nkrumah advised citizens not to be afraid when the number of cases of COVID 19 go up because research has it that the number on record cases will go up when it appears in any country before it comes to a reduction stage when precautionary measures are observed.

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The Korle Bu Teaching Hospital boss, Daniel Asare, also had claimed that the dreaded Wuhan coronavirus isn’t likely to survive in Africa, due to the fact Africa has high temperature and it will make it difficult for the virus to survive.

“Ghana is safe, tourists are safe, Korle Bu is safe and ready for a possible and we’re working to keep it so. We’re very lucky as a country because of our high temperatures it’s very difficult for the virus to spread”, he said.

He confirmed that investigations into the two suspected cases of coronavirus recorded at the hospital have proved negative.

He said the two patients-a Chinese national and Argentine – have so far been discharged to the appropriate medical practitioners for further treatment.

Two foreign nationals, a Chinese and an Argentinian were suspected to have shown symptoms of coronavirus when they visited the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital on Wednesday, 5 February 2020.

The patients who were in Ghana for a while now, were isolated at the facility while blood samples taken were sent to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), for further analysis. The two gentlemen reportedly walked into Korle Bu after they were referred to the place from a clinic.

Prof. Plange-Rhule was a former President of the GMA as well as the Ghana Kidney Association.

He was recently the Head of the Department of Physiology of the School of Medical Sciences, Kumasi and a Consultant Physician in the Department of Medicine, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) where he started the Hypertension and Renal Clinic and oversaw its operations for the past twenty years.

He had also been the Head of Nephrology Services at the KATH prior to taking up the rector appointment. He had over two decades of experience in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education.

According to the online portal of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, he had his undergraduate medical training at the School of Medical Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

Subsequently, he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Renal Physiology from the Victorian University of Manchester, UK. Following that, he undertook his residency training in Internal Medicine.

He was a Fellow West Africa College of Physicians; Fellow Ghana College of Physicians and a Fellow Royal College of Physicians, London.

Prof Plange-Rhule had extensive experience in research, particularly, among populations of African origin, in the fields of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular disease epidemiology.

He engaged in several internationally funded research projects and published extensively in these areas.

He also contributed chapters to two books.




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