The University of Ghana has held the 40th Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Memorial Lecture (AFGML) series on March 18, 2022 at the Great Hall. Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention delivered the lecture on the theme “Fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic: Africa at a Crossroad?”
This year’s lecture was chaired by Justice Sophia A.B. Akuffo (Rtd.), Chairperson, University Council and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for the National COVID-19 Trust Fund.
Dr. Nkengasong set the pace for his lecture by highlighting certain contributions and mindset of the three individuals – Dr. James Kwegir-Aggrey, Alexander G. Fraser and Sir Gordon Guggisberg – who are memorialised.
Discussing the various ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world, with focus from an African perspective, Dr. Nkengasong made some juxtaposition between the 1918 Influenza and COVID -19 pandemic.
He noted that whereas the 1918 pandemic took a decade to move from China to Europe, COVID-19 took two months to have a toll on the world. He opined that COVID-19 pandemic comes to prove that the world at large has a common connectivity, vulnerability, inequities and inequalities.
Shedding light on the polarized outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, where unlike most African countries, there is optimism in several developed countries that life can begin to return to normal and many restrictions being lifted, Dr. Nkengasong noted that to gain insight into the polarized COVID-19 world, there is the need to carefully examine the doctrine of fighting a pandemic by fully understanding what he calls the five Ps: Pathogen, Population, Policy, Politics and Partnership.
Extensively breaking down the 5Ps, Dr. Nkengasong expressed the importance of knowing and characterizing the causative pathogens of a pandemic. He noted that countries beginning to develop diagnostic and therapeutic vaccines to deal with COVID-19 was as a result of the fully characterization of the pathogen that caused them pandemic and sequencing within a period of four weeks of the outbreaks.
He, however, expressed concern in the inability of any African country to develop any of the medical countermeasures, thus creating dependency. Nonetheless, Dr. Nkengasong was quick to highlight some progress that had been made in Africa so far. He mentioned that Africa can also do great if it remains consistent and takes over its health security in its own hands.
Explaining how population behavior affects the response of the pandemic, Dr. Nkengasong noted that misinformation and the power of technology has been used to influence the way population responds to COVID-19. “The hesitancy rate of taking the vaccine in many African countries has increased because of the negative news surrounding the vaccine uptake”, he added.
Dr. Nkengasong further noted that in pandemic response, good politics matter and bad politics is crippling. He opined that the greatest factor influencing the COVID-19 pandemic is politics. He reiterated that politics could damage science and public trust on response measures. He stated that the joint continental strategy of coordinating, cooperating, collaborating, and communicating showed the strong will of Africa’s political leadership to fight and win against the pandemic.
Dr. Nkengasong praised the consolidated efforts of Africans who worked in groups to support the continent’s fight against Covid-19 and the groundbreaking initiatives which sprung up from such groups. He noted that Africa must be proud of its partnership capabilities.
He concluded his lecture with the limits of optimism of multilateralism and the power of regionalism. Dr. Nkengasong who quizzed why Africa is the only continent which relies on another to tell them which product to use was confident that Africa, when faced with adversity can produce and take control of its own future, but it has to be sustained. He also advocated for Africa to have a New Health Order to infectious disease threats.
Justice Akuffo (Rtd.), in her closing remarks expressed gratitude to Dr. Nkengasong for the excellent speech delivered. She was hopeful that if the points raised by Dr. Nkengasong are taken into consideration, African nations will be prepared for the next pandemic.
The second part of the event was a special congregation ceremony presided over by the Chancellor, Dr. Mrs. Mary Chinery-Hesse. As is the custom of the Aggrey-Fraser-Memorial lecture of the University, Dr. Mrs. Mary Chinery-Hesse on behalf of the University, conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa on Dr. John Nkengasong, the 2022 Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Memorial Lecturer. The citation was read by Prof. Gordon Awandare, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Academic and Student Affairs. The Vice-Chancellor, Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, assisted the Chancellor, Dr. Mrs. Mary Chinery-Hesse and the Chair of Council, Justice Sophia Akuffo (Rtd.) in robing Dr. John Nkengasong.
Dr. John Nkengasong in a group photo with the Principal Officers of the University of Ghana after the conferrment of the award
As part of the tradition during Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Memorial Lectures, the University made a presentation to Dr. Nkengasong. Presenting an artwork, THE STOOL OF HOPE (symbolising hope) to the lecturer, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Amfo, pointed out that the efforts and partnerships coordinated by Dr. Nkengasong, if sustained, will see Africa better prepared against the next pandemic. “We are giving this to you, put it somewhere that you can see; when things get tough and you sight this, it’s a reminder that you should not relent till you see the Africa we all desire to see”, Prof. Amfo said.
Dr. Nkengasong in his acceptance speech expressed sincere gratitude to the University for the award.
Earlier in the introductory address, Mr. Emmanuel Baidoo, Acting Registrar noted that the Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Memorial Lectures, is a major event on the academic calendar of the University of Ghana. It was instituted in 1957, to commemorate the contribution made by the three persons memorialized to the founding of Achimota College, now Achimota School, and more generally to the advancement of education and particularly higher education in Ghana. The three persons are James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey, Alexander G. Fraser and Gordon Guggisberg.
There were performances by the Ghana Dance Ensemble and the University of Ghana Jubilee Choir, as well as a Seperewa performance to herald the Lecturer.
Osei Korankye playing the seprewa
In attendance at the lecture were Prof. William Ampofo, Chair of African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative; Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director-General, Ghana Health Service; Dr. Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, Presidential Advisor on COVID -19; Profs. Ivan Addae-Mensah, Clifford Nii Boye Tagoe and Ernest Aryeetey, former Vice-Chancellors; Mrs. Mercy Haizel-Ashia, former Registrar; a team from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Ghana; Mrs. Susan Nkengasong, wife of Dr. Nkengasong; members of the University Council, Provosts, Deans, Directors, staff, students, other members of the University community and the general public.
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