Monday, September 9, 2013

No cholera deaths this year …but Ghana sitting on time bomb

Some of the participants in a group work exercise

A total of 9,542 cholera cases with 100 deaths were reported in Ghana in 2012, but no deaths have been recorded in 2013, despite some reported cases of the disease in the country.

Speaking to the Daily Graphic in a telephone interview last Friday, September 6, 2013, Mr Jonas Amanu, the Greater Accra Regional Environmental Health Officer, said although there had been no reported deaths from cholera  this year, the region had recorded 14 confirmed and reported cases since January.

Indicating that all 14 persons who reported at health facilities in the region had since been treated and discharged, he said he was, however, not privy to any compilation of confirmed reported cases across the entire country.

This has been confirmed by Dr Alfred Sugri Tia, Deputy Minister of Health, and Mr J. Y. Donkor, a Public Health Officer, Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate (EHSD) in the Ashanti Region.

However, at the launch of a special community-based campaign on cholera at Nima in Accra recently to educate people living in high risk areas including Maamobi and Agbogbloshie on how to prevent the disease, Dr Tia said although no cholera case had been confirmed this year, the possibility of the outbreak was high, as the risk factors still existed.

Corroborating this at a sensitisation and cholera reporting training workshop for journalists in Kumasi last Thursday, September 5, 2013, Mr Donkor said although there had not been any cases of death, there might be unreported cases or isolated cases, and cautioned all Ghanaians to be wary, as the conditions for an epidemic still existed.

Maurice Ocquaye
Mr Maurice Ocquaye, a consultant with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who was also a resource person at the training, said in exasperation: “It is actually a disgrace for Ghana to be battling cholera in the 21st century. Our practices have changed for the worse,” adding that the disease was mainly contracted through ingesting of contaminated water and food.

Speaking on the cholera pattern in the country, Mr Ocquaye said the recurring outbreaks in particular districts every year suggested that there were particular things those districts were doing that resulted in the outbreaks.

He, therefore, urged journalists to highlight those practices in their reportage in order to help curb the incessant outbreaks.

“In my rounds, what I see makes me very sad as a Ghanaian. I think that it is only by the grace of God that we have not recorded any deaths yet this year. The practices have not changed – they are still the same. We don’t have potable water, open wells are there, we share them with our animals and we drink from those sources, we don’t treat our water, we don’t wash our hands after using the toilet.
All the practices that will actually give us the opportunity to prevent the infection; we are not really doing them,” he warned.

The UNICEF consultant disclosed that about a month or two ago some cases of cholera were reported in the Greater Accra Region and when they were traced it was found out that they had taken ‘waakye’ (rice cooked with beans) and sachet water.

“Fortunately they were treated and discharged and it didn’t extend to the people close to them. I have worked in HIV/AIDS for about 20 years but with what I see with cholera, we are sitting on a time bomb and if we don’t take proactive steps to nip it in the bud, I think that it will only be a matter of time and we will lose lives,” he stated.

Mr Ocquaye also expressed worry that many people did not know the symptoms of cholera but think it was just diarrhoea and felt they could just visit a traditional healer or take some concoction and get well.

Cases of cholera reported last year were from 53 districts in nine regions. However, available statistics indicate that no districts in the Upper West Region recorded any of the cases last year.

The workshop, which attracted over 20 participants from all the regions of Ghana, was organised by the EHSD with support from UNICEF’s Communication for Development (C4D) unit through a $1.5 million grant from the Japanese government in collaboration with the Ghana Government.

According to Maurice Ocquaye, the grant was also geared towards providing safe water for 35,000 Ghanaians, supporting 250,000 people access sanitation facilities and also giving skills to health workers to identify and diagnose cholera patients and treat them appropriately.

It is also to build the capacity for emergency response during cholera outbreaks in the country.
The Ghana Watsan Journalists Network (GWJN) is a grouping of journalists focused on writing on water, sanitation and hygiene issues and has branches in all regions of Ghana.

This was first published by /Daily Graphic/Ghana on September 9, 2013

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