The manifestoes of the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress have been launched with relative pomp ahead of the December 7 polls. Absent from these launches were the massive crowds and packed auditoriums. The irony is the reason the drastic altering of the makeup of the campaign season barely registered in ways that mattered in the respective manifestoes.
When the coronavirus touched down in March, the scientists, not politicians, were front and centre in our consciousness; voices of reason and comfort. From the mundane beats of personal protection to the complex updates on genome sequencing, we listened and learned as the importance of these experts became apparent.
Scientists in Ghana and beyond sensed this and used this little leverage to try and build on the gratitude with calls for resourcing and investment in research. Beyond Ghana, the African Academy of Sciences hoped the pandemic would give scientists enough leverage to push for a stronger commitment to research funding on the continent.
Back in 2006, African Union (AU) member countries committed to spending at least 1 percent of their GDP on furthering research and development by 2010. Ghana is yet to come close to reaching that goal.
Global spending on research and development has reached a record high; almost $ 1.7 trillion. But Ghana spends only 0.4 percent of its GDP on research and development, according to UNESCO.
It is tempting to reach for the lowest fruit and harp on the fact that Ghana is in dire financial straits, especially coming off a year where some GHS 10 billion went into just cushioning citizens from the virus alone, not to talk of a rebuild of the economy.
But manifestoes are aspirational and if our politicians had been listening, they would appreciate the fact that the work of scientists is critical to the general wellbeing of society; from a proactive and reactive standpoint.
When the time came for testing for the coronavirus, we realised we were shorthanded. The two main testing centres; Noguchi Medical Research Institute and the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research into Tropical Medicine, owe their existence to foreign funding. The story is the same for the satellite testing centres provided by the Ghana veterinary services which are up and running because of commitments from abroad.
It is disappointing that in the two manifestoes, there wasn’t any tangible commitment from the State towards enhancing laboratory infrastructure across the board as well as a plan to increase funding into research, or at least reaching the mark set by the AU in 2006.
World leaders like US president, Donald Trump, and his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, have been the subject of mockery and scorn for essentially denying the gravity of the threat posed by the coronavirus.
Thankfully, President Akufo-Addo is not a right-wing nut and did not sink that low. But one could argue that he and other political leaders are ignoring the gaps exposed by the virus and that may be the next worst thing.
Larger discussions need to be had about the lack of regard for science and data in the formulation of national policy and political prioritisation. Look no further than the crisis with illegal mining and the lack of political will to address the situation. What hope then do we have that our political leaders will take something like climate change seriously.
Ignoring the limitations exposed by the virus is probably just as dishonest as denying its magnitude. For those with keener eyes, there is a loss of credibility taking place. The only metrics we can use to judge this are our actions or intended actions. So far, the two main manifestoes are plotting a path that leaves science in the dust.
The NDC in its manifesto once again remind that the “unprecedented” health infrastructure it put in place has been critical in combatting the virus. It has a nicely intentioned chapter on “building a pandemic-resilient Ghana”. It notes that our response to the virus “must be scientific, organisational and cultural.”
But it loses sight of the bigger picture and is too eager to punch holes in the Akufo-Addo administration’s response. Instead of layered plans highlighting the importance of the One Health concept (there is not a single mention of One Health), research funding and laboratory infrastructure, we get paragraphs attacking the perceived populism, indifference and corruption of the government.
The NDC is right to question the priorities of the NPP government but in doing so within this context, it takes its eye off the ball. Essentially, for the NDC, the lessons learned from the coronavirus exist solely within the sphere of the coronavirus and there appears to be no wider appreciation for the importance of scientific safeguards for varying problems nature may throw our way.
More has been expected of the governing NPP and rightfully so. They have access to most resources, data and have been given the most headaches by the virus. Most of its headaches are economic as reinforced by what its manifesto has to say about the coronavirus.
The closest we get to anything satisfactory from the NPP is the section on the coronavirus and the health sector which reads: “Several lessons have emerged from this pandemic, including the need to upscale our disease surveillance…”
How do we plan on upscaling surveillance? This is unclear. And once again, there is no mention of One Health and Ghana’s plans to kick start the policy which should coordinate surveillance on the human and animal healthcare front.
A lot of money has been allocated for alleviation programmes and the much-touted Agenda 111 for health infrastructure but financial commitments to research and development are lacking.
Scientists like the Director of West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, Professor Gordon Awandare, are unlikely to be thrilled given calls for more sustainable funding towards research after the pandemic.
The dream of a Ghana-funded veterinary research institute with a research wing and a diagnostics component proposed by Dr. Theophilus Odoom, the head of labs at the Accra Veterinary Services Directorate, will have to wait.
Science and research had its moment in the sun and with the spotlight on it, we saw potential. But it is looking like it may take another epidemic for us to start taking science and research seriously again.
The writer, Delali Adogla-Bessa, works with Citi FM/Citi TV and citinewsroom.com