Diarrhoea kills 10,000 under five children in Ghana annually – Minister

Akwasi Opong-Fosu - Minister For Local Government and Rural Development
Akwasi Opong-Fosu – Minister For Local Government and Rural Development

Hon. Akwasi Opong-Fosu, Ghana’s Minister For Local Government and Rural Development, has lamented that in spite of efforts made in achieving the country’s water Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target, diarrhoea still remains the third killer of children under five years of age, accounting for 10,000 deaths every year.

Diarrhoea like many other diseases contracted through ingesting of contaminated and unsafe water, results in frequent passing of stool and vomiting and thus causes dehydration within a very short time. If not treated in time it can result in death as a result of the loss of body fluid.

Painting a squalid picture of the negative effects of contaminated water on the Ghanaian citizenry, he said: “Our health facilities continue to record periodic cholera outbreaks in some urban areas and small towns.  For example, in 2012 we reported 9,548 cholera cases with some 100 deaths.”

The minister, who said these when he delivered the keynote address at the beginning of a three-day West Africa regional workshop in Accra Monday, May 6, 2013, on household water treatment and safe storage, with the theme “Scaling-up HWTS – National policy environment and integration strategies”, indicated that according to the country’s 2009 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report, less than 8% of Ghanaians treat drinking water before using.

“This is not encouraging at all and I know the picture is not too different from what pertains in most African countries. This indicates that the issue of safe water at the point of use should be taken more seriously in our various countries than we have done over the years,” he told the participants from English-speaking countries in the sub-region.

He assured that the Government of Ghana is conscious of the benefits being derived from effective practicing of Household Water Treatment and Safe storage, and therefore has put in place a strategy to guide its implementation at the household level.

“The bedrock of this strategy is behavioural change and involvement of private sector through public private partnership,” Hon. Opong-Fosu stated.

Declaring that Ghana has various categories of trained government staff, like the Environmental Health Assistants, Community Health Nurses and community development officers found in all metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) who have the mandate and required skills to educate and promote water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, including Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS) in communities, he pledged continual resourcing by Government to enable them effectively deliver on their mandate.

Currently, unsafe drinking water, along with inadequate hygiene and sanitation, contributes to an estimated 1.9 million annual deaths globally, which includes children under five years of age.

While countries work to provide universal access to safe, reliable piped-in water, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have called for targeted, interim approaches that will accelerate the health gains  associated with safe drinking water for those whose water supplies are unsafe.

One of such approaches is household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) to prevent contamination during collection, transport and use in the home.
Already, evidence shows that the use of HWTS methods improves the microbiological quality of household water and thus reduces the burden of diarrhoeal disease in users.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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