Cholera outbreak plagues 5,800 Ghanaians, kills 50 in nine months

From January 2012 to September 2012 alone, 50 Ghanaians have died from cholera, while 5,800 cases have been reported at the country’s hospitals and health centres.

These figures from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) were relayed by Hon. Enoch T. Mensah, Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing, when he delivered a statement Monday, October 15, 2012 in Accra, at a national durbar to mark five years of Global Handwashing Day celebration.

Speaking at the durbar organised by the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) under the theme; “5 Years of Global Handwashing Day Celebration: Going Beyond the Fifth Birthday of Children”, Hon. E. T. Mensah described the situation as heart-rending.

“This is sad, because these are people who should not have been ill at all in the first place. Cholera can easily be avoided by keeping our environment clean and by simply washing our hands with soap after using the toilet before handling food – That is before cooking or selling or eating food,” he stated.

The Minister, who is also the Member of Parliament for Ningo-Prampram, expressed dismay that while it is simple and handwashing with soap as a habit is critical to avoid the scourge of diseases, “it is common to find people using their hands unhygienically, who will go ahead to use soap after they have eaten.”

“When you go to the chop bars, you see people – as soon as they are served there is some water there, they put their hands in and then they jump on to eating – this is something which is unacceptable and we’ve got to do something about it,” he charged.

According to the MP, the situation as it stands now in the country, goes to demonstrate that while the adoption of specific hygiene behaviour has proved useful in controlling outbreak of infectious diseases, it is also true that the adoption of such behaviour can be difficult.

“For lack of knowledge, many people will continue to ignore the role that hygiene plays in reducing the incidence of diseases and this has to be stopped,” he demanded, stressing, “Handwashing with soap should become one of the cherished hygienic practices in Ghana.”

He entreated all stakeholders to join in championing ‘this worthy cause’ to improve upon the lives of Ghanaians and to provide a better future for the present and the next generations at totally no cost whatsoever.

Hon. E. T. Mensah specifically appealed to the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and the Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate (EHSD) of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, to make sure that they put up pragmatic plans towards the promotion of ‘this important national programme’.

“In our various clinics, hospitals and health centres for example, the message of handwashing with soap should be part of the daily talks given to the patients,” he urged.

“Let us all join hands in the global effort to enhance the awareness and practice of washing our hands with soap at the critical times, especially after visiting the toilet and before we handle food. Let us teach our children several times every day, that prevention is better than cure, that hygiene is health and that healthy people make a healthy nation,” he enjoined all Ghanaians.

Despite the gloomy state of handwashing with soap in Ghana, Mr. Rene Van Dongen, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Ghana opined; “We have something to celebrate today because 2012 marks the 5th anniversary of the Global Handwashing Day celebration.”

Delivering a statement on behalf of the United Nations, he said each year more than 121 million children turn five worldwide so “in addition to celebrating our fifth anniversary we want to celebrate the fifth birthday of millions of children around the world this year.”

Mr. Van Dongen however lamented that the celebration notwithstanding, a lot of children die annually from hygiene-related diseases.

“Unfortunately, too many children in Ghana and too many children in the world die and do not live to celebrate their birthdays due to diarrhoea, pneumonia and other diseases. Together, pneumonia and diarrhoea are responsible for an estimated 40% of all child deaths around the world each year and in this they kill more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined,” he stated.

The UNICEF deputy representative in Ghana disclosed that although every day, 19,000 children worldwide die before reaching their fifth birthday, handwashing with soap has an important role to play in their survival and development.

“One of the cost effective interventions, which means it is cheap, handwashing can reduce the incidence of diarrhoea among children by almost 50% and respiratory infections by almost 25%. In other words and put succinctly, handwashing saves lives,” he emphasised.

Van Dongen said the focus of the theme for this year’s celebration is to foster global and local culture of handwashing with soap, to shine the spotlight on handwashing and to centre and raise awareness on the benefits of handwashing with soap.

He teased the key messages from the theme as the transfer of the knowledge of handwashing with soap into practice in homes, schools, at health centres, at markets, communities and everywhere in Ghana.

Also, he stated that as handwashing with soap saves lives, it will contribute to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing death among children under the age of five, by two thirds in 2015 and that mothers and care givers have an extreme role to play in preventing under five deaths, by simply washing their hands with soap before feeding their babies.

Van Dongen emphasised that health personnel can also play a major role by instituting handwashing with soap among nursing mothers, urging, “We need to make handwashing with soap a part of everybody’s life.”

Saying children play an extremely important role in ensuring that happens, he told the hundreds of school children gathered at the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park where the durbar was held; “You are agents of change – as they say, each one teach one and that is how the world becomes a better place.”

In her closing remarks, Hon. Sherry Ayittey, Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, who was Chair for the function,  mentioned three things that came out strongly from the theme, listing them as the reduction of child mortality rate, reduction of the death of children under five years and prevention.

She appealed to teachers to provide handwashing bowls and position them at vantage points within the various schools, so that children can wash their hands regularly after playing during break.

The Environment Minister also appealed to traditional authorities to use their platform to educate their communities about sanitary and environmental conditions and mentioned awareness creation as very critical.

She thus tasked the school pupils gathered to tell their peers that handwashing saves lives, saying government will save a lot of funds if child mortality were reduced, put such money into education and provide better health facilities for the citizenry.

Hon. Sherry Ayittey also asked CWSA to include groupings that handle food for education on handwashing.

The theme address was delivered by Dr. Gloria Quansah-Asare, Director, Family Health, GHS, while the keynote address was read by H.E. Matilda Amissah-Arthur, Second Lady, Ghana.

The national durbar, which was organised with support from WaterAid in Ghana, UNICEF, Unilever, Plan Ghana, World Vision, EHSD, GHS, Ghana Education Service (GES), Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS), included poetry recitals, cultural displays, and a sketch by pupils of the Ledzokuku Krowor Municipal Assembly (LEKMA) South Cluster of Schools.

There was as well the cutting of a fifth anniversary cake donated by Unilever, by Mrs. Matilda Amissah-Arthur, Second Lady of the Republic of Ghana, who was assisted by Hon. E. T. Mensah and selected children.

A combined schools cadet corps from the Legon Basic School, Holy Trinity Cathedral Secondary School and Odorgonno Secondary School, also provided a thrilling performance and a handwashing demonstration by all dignitaries present, led by the Second Lady, as well as the school children.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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