Policemen in Ghana’s Eastern Region capital, Koforidua, have to endure stigma as frontliners after a Station Officer at the Central Police Station, name withheld, died of Covid-19.
Eastern Regional Deputy Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Police Service Sergeant Francis Gumado recounted how their spouses and children had to bear the brunt of the stigma within the community.
They were stigmatized against because it was known that a Policeman had contracted the coronavirus.
He pointed out the media blew the death of the Station Officer (name withheld) out of proportion, sparking a wave of fear and panic among residents in Koforidua.
“His images were shown on some national television just then the police population and their families suffered stigma.”
Police personnel who commuted from Police barrack and quarters had to trek to their offices and duty posts because the commercial drivers would not pick them.
“The moment you are in Police uniform and you stop them, they will not stop. Some even went to buy foodstuffs and they were not allowed to get close.”
The stigmatization from the community affected the morale of the Police to arrest people who flouted the Covid-19 safety protocols of wearing of the face masks.
Social stigma in the context of health is defined by the World Health Organization as a negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and specific diseases.
It further explains that in an outbreak, people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately and experience loss of state because of the perceived link with a disease.
The account of the Police confirms that Covid-19 had proved social security and discriminatory behaviours against people and anyone perceived to have had contact with the virus.
At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic cases in the Eastern Region, residents had fear and anxiety because they were dealing with a new disease, they were afraid of the unknown and were easily influenced by rumours, gossips and unchecked facts from their social influencers.
People began to hide their status, aiding the stereotype whiles the Police affected became hesitant in opening up.
WHO acknowledges that stigma is a major cause of discrimination and exclusion. It affects people’s self-esteem, help disrupt their family relationship and limit their ability to socialize and obtain housing and jobs.
It hampers the prevention of mental disorder, promotion of mental well-being and the provision of effective treatment and care. It also contributes to the abuse of human rights.
The deceased Police Officer was at the fore front fighting residents who breached the Covid-19 protocols within a densely populated Central Business District and Quarantine Centers until his demise on May 29, 2020.
“He was working in an environment, which exposed him to lots of people, some of whom had run away from some quarantine centers,” Sergeant Gomado explained.
Their woes were compounded by the processes of getting a culprit to be tested for Covid-19. Officers handling cases had to take suspects on remand to designated centers for testing before the Prisons would accept them.
The Eastern Region does not have Covid-19 testing centres. Suspected cases were sent to the national capital, Accra.
Police population for the Koforidua Central Police station and the Regional Command runs over 2,600.
Regular talks and encouragement from senior Police officers motivated them and lightened the stigma they were enduring.
Regional Police establishment and divisional establishment do not have counseling centres unlike the national Police Command Office.
Several Police personnel also contracted Covid-19 along their line of duties and have recovered.
Sergeant Francis Gomado is worried for the fact that the law enforcement on persons who flout the law is almost impossible, because government officials flout the rules with impunity and nothing happens to them.
“We have watched scenarios where people in officialdom flout the protocols at national event, the next day, you see ordinary people doing same and if you want to arrest them they will refer you to the cases they watched on television and national events where public officials flouted too.”
He added when the citizens refer to a Police personnel, a sense of fair judgement puts them off and there is absolutely little they can do.
“We are law enforcement officers, but we need fair grounds to enforce the laws to the latter.”
The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, by a Executive Instrument, assented to the Imposition of the Restrictions Act, 2020 (Act 1020) on March 21, 2020 after being passed by Parliament.
It was enacted to provide powers to the President for the imposition of restrictions in accordance with the Constitutional Provisions on fundamental human rights in the event of an emergency, disaster or similar circumstances to ensure public safety, health and protection punishment.
The Instrument imposes restrictions on travel to Ghana and Public gatherings including conferences, worships, funerals, festivals, political rallies, sporting events, and gatherings for religious purposes, night clubs, drinking spots and event centres as well as private and other social gatherings.
But the duration of the powers has expired over a year since March 2020 when it was enforced.
Section 4(1) of Act 1020 states that a restriction impose under subsection (1) of section 2 shall be for a period of not more than three months.
It further gives clarity that if the intensity of the disease or there is a significant change in nature of the disease, the President may by Executive Instrument where the exigencies of the circumstances occur require to; 4(a) shorten the duration or restriction or 4(b) extend the duration of the restriction for not more than one month a time but in an event for not more than three months.
Circumstances for the imposition of restrictions is spelt out in section 3(a) of the Imposition Act 1020; as it is reasonably required in the interest of defense, public safety, public health or running of essential services and Section 3(b) of in imposition act 1020; reasonable required on the movement of residence within Ghana of any person or persons generally, or any class or person.
The Eastern Regional Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, Sargeant Francis Gumado, sounded helpless that the lawful right and moral right to ensure the Public adhere to the Covid-19 protocols has been lost.
“Several people are still flouting the protocols, they even think the disease is no more”.
He feels government could have treated them better with same intervention for some health workers during Covid-19 pandemic.
“Some sort of resistance is faced from the public we seek to protect, we have been at the fore front to maintain law and order. We went to hard-to-reach areas to supply them water and bought mask for citizens to mask up, but it’s rather unfortunate we were not offered an incentive package.”
Several Police personnel in the Eastern Region contracted the coronavirus and had to be quarantined, he added.
Latest update on Covid -19 from the Ghana Health Service as at June 23 puts Confirmed National figures at 95,642, with 1,559 active cases, out of the figure Eastern Region recorded 4,388 and currently has 12 active case count.
The Public Affairs Department of the Ghana Police Service on June 7, 2020 put out an educational video on their social media handle to inform and educate the public and their own personnel against stigma.
District Commander of the Tesano Divisional Command Superintendent George Atia, speaking in the video said, “COVID-19 has come to stay so we must all put our hands on the deck to fight the disease fiercefully”.
He asked Police personnel to keep adhering to the Covid-19 protocols wherever they find themselves.
“Either you are working at the charge office or wherever you find yourself as a policeman or when you embark on any investigation outside the premises of the Police station, make sure you adhere to the two meters distance to protect yourself and the general public at large.”
Superintendent George Atia warned against stigma, saying, “If a personnel goes through all the health protocols, quarantined and he or she recovers, let’s welcome them with open arms, it can happen to anybody, let’s not stigmatize people who contract Covid-19.”
By Yvonne Neequaye
The writer is a mentee under the JHR/GJA Mentorship Programme