President Akufo-Addo addressed the opening of the 73rd Annual Year School at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana on January 25, 2022. In his speech, the president said Ghana had been ranked top among the countries that managed the COVID-19 pandemic well in the world.
“We pioneered life-saving innovations that WHO has since replicated elsewhere; with Ghana and Korea touted as the two best nations in dealing with the pandemic,” President Akufo-Addo said.
This was not the first time the president or a member of his government had boasted of how they handled the COVID-19 outbreak.
In November 2021, the finance minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, at the reading of the budget statement for the 2022 financial year, said the government has managed the pandemic well to the praise of the world.
“We have been there with the people, playing the difficult but necessary balancing act of managing an economy put under extreme distress by the pandemic and, at the same time, supporting households and businesses to cope. Our response to COVID 19 thus far, has earned domestic and worldwide acclaim as our President and his Fellow Ghanaians will attest to,” Ken Ofori-Atta said.
But has Ghana indeed been ranked top among the countries that best managed COVID-19 in the world? The claim by the president, which comes with the mention of the WHO, could mislead a casual listener into thinking that the ranking was done by the WHO.
Fact-Check Ghana verified the claim and present the details below.
It’s difficult to compare countries’ approaches to COVID-19 – WHO
At the beginning of 2020, when many countries had not recorded COVID-19 cases, the World Health Organsation (WHO) instituted what it called “country preparedness and response status for COVID-19”. The project assessed and categorised countries based on their readiness and capacity to respond to the pandemic that was fast spreading across the globe. For instance, in February 2020, a month before Ghana recorded its first case, WHO rated the country 59%.
Based on its previous ranking and in following up on the claims that Ghana has been ranked among the best in COVID-19 management, Fact-Check Ghana, in email correspondence, enquired from the WHO if it indeed has any such ranking and what criteria guide such rankings.
Carlan Drysdale, Communications Officer at the WHO, who responded to the mail referred Fact-Check Ghana to a press conference that had been organised by her outfit on January 18, 2022. WHO had responded to the issue of comparing the approaches of different countries in fighting COVID-19 at the said press conference.
Responding to a question by a journalist, Mike Rydan, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, who was addressing the conference said it was difficult to compare strategies of different countries to COVID-19.
“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,” Mike Rydan said.
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, despite having assessed and categorized countries at the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO does not compare the strategies and policies countries have adopted in fighting COVID-19. The global health body has, therefore, not ranked any country based on their COVID-19 response.
Different organisations are producing rankings based on different criteria
Even though, the WHO has stated it is difficult to compare the approaches and strategies that countries have adopted to fight the pandemic, many researchers and organisations, including news outlets have published rankings based on their own criteria.
MoveHub, a UK-based international shipping company, in February this year published their ranking based on death rates per million people, cases per million people, vaccination rollouts, and how countries have re-opened their economies.
In mid-2020, Time magazine published similar rankings by a group of researchers focusing on healthcare responses, political responses, and financial responses.
Lowy Institute, a think-tank based in Australia, also established what it calls “Covid-19 Performance Index”. According to the Institute, the index examined confirmed cases, confirmed deaths, confirmed cases per million people, confirmed deaths per million people, confirmed cases as a proportion of tests, among other criteria. The Index focused on a period of 43 weeks that followed the hundredth confirmed case of COVID-19 in about 116 countries using data available to them as of 13 March 2021.
The CNBC, US News, and many other international news media outlets have published various rankings produced by researchers on the management of COVID-19 by countries based on some form of criteria.
None of the rankings from the aforementioned institutions mentioned Ghana in its best or worst countries, and almost all of them have different countries in their findings. While that does not pass a verdict on whether Ghana managed COVID-19 well or not, it underscores the fact that there are many such rankings, focusing on varying criteria and periods of time, and are therefore producing different results.
Ghana ranked top in terms of communication and Rhetoric
One of the many rankings on how countries responded to the pandemic was published by a team of researchers led by Darren Lilleker, a professor of political communication in Bournemouth University, in a book titled “Political Communication and COVID-19
Governance and Rhetoric in Times of Crisis”.
The researchers ranked Ghana top, together with South Korea. This is the ranking President Akufo Addo was, perhaps, referring to in his speech at the new year school opening.
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 ranking by Prof Darren Lilleker and the team of researchers focused specifically on how countries communicated to their citizens during the pandemic, unlike the other aforementioned rankings that focused on criteria like confirmed cases per million people, confirmed deaths per million people, confirmed cases as a proportion of tests.
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, even though Ghana was named among some of the countries that managed the pandemic well by some researchers, it was on the score of how the president communicated to the country on COVID-19 and its related matters.
In conclusion, the WHO has no official rankings of country performance on COVID-19. The International public health agency says it is difficult to compare countries based on their approaches to fighting COVID-19. Ghana, together with South Korea, has been ranked by a team of researchers based specifically on how the country communicated to citizens on the pandemic.