At the heart of COVID-19

Posted on  August 7, 2020 

Categories:   Health

“Unless we act now, the COVID-19 pandemic will cause unimaginable devastation and suffering around the world…we need to respond with unity and solidarity”; these are the words of Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General. This statement can easily be used to describe Dr. Kwabena O. Duedu, Head of the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) COVID-19 Testing Centre - the “dreaded” area everyone stays clear off unless they have COVID business.

Asked what propels him at a time like this, he said “I have a unique opportunity to be a part of this fight. It is not everybody who has been bold enough to stand out. If we all sit back and do nothing, we will all be overwhelmed. I see it as a privilege to be able to help everyone. People are dying and the disease keeps spreading.”

Prior to Ghana recording its first cases in March, the UHAS had proactively begun prepping on how to manage the situation should the pandemic reach Ghana and by extension; the Volta and Oti Regions. Subsequently a COVID-19 taskforce was formed to handle the situation, should the need arise. One of the sub-groups of the taskforce was the laboratory sub-group to be headed by Dr. Duedu, a Senior Lecturer and Head of Biomedical Sciences of the School of Basic and Biomedical Sciences (SBBS).

What started as a rapid response team in anticipation of the pandemic reaching Ghana became a full- blown lifesaver for the two regions. Under the leadership of Dr Duedu, the centre ensures that samples from various hospitals are processed and ready within 24 hours, without any backlogs. A situation many parts of the country are still trying to grapple with.

A typical day in the fight against the pandemic for the cellular and molecular biologist on the bench, lasts at least 12 hours, seven days in a week and mostly foregoing his weekends to ensure that every detail is well catered for. This translates to the fact that he has had no break since the Centre became fully operational in April this year.

“Every day is a call to duty. The disease does not choose which days and which times to attack”, his reason to serve at all times. Officially, the centre runs for 12 hours but unofficially they break their backs to put in more hours closing often at 8pm but that’s when another workload begins for the scientist as he has to review and validate all the hundreds of samples that have come through to the facility and generate a report for onward submission. He finally heads home most times at 12 am, sometimes to continue with the paper works at the detriment of spending quality time with his family. This has become the bane of his commitment to the fight as the numbers keep rising with no readily available vaccine in sight.

But did his family support him wholly when he became the “sampler of corona virus”? He said initially his family was very skeptical about his new work and the dangers involved, not just for him but for them as well. But he was quick to add that he had to put in work to convince them to accept his new role of trying to save lives.

Dr Deudu said to keep his safety promise to his family and loved ones, he has learnt to be conscious of his movements and the people he comes in contact with because “we get exposed to the samples every single day”. Though very meticulous in keeping everyone safe, he says his innocent kids take him by surprise sometimes by hugging him the few times they catch sight of him when he gets home early but still “you can’t take chances when you are in the lab”.

“I make good use of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), disinfect before heading home so I don’t endanger those who come into contact with me. After the lab disinfection, I also ensure to have a thorough bath when I get home”, he said.

Through all these sacrifices and his carefulness, the microbiologist is facing his fair share of stigmatization and discrimination. One would have thought he would be spared looking at all the selfless service he was providing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. He said some family and friends have totally shunned his company with a number of them being frank with him about their fear of contracting the virus from him. Some have even blatantly said “I fear you now so keep a distance” with others preferring to continue any other dealings with him over the phone until the situation stabilizes.

But in all these, the humble microbiologist is unperturbed and continues to do his work with the hope that the world will finally find a cure.

By SUMAIYA SALIFU SAEED