Time to strengthen disability, maternal health

stethoscopeMs Abenaa Pokuaa (not real name) a 28-year-old deaf woman, nursing a four-month pregnancy, reported to a health facility complaining of sore throat.

The medical officer misinterpreted her sign language to mean she was having stomach problem and went ahead to prescribe drugs for treatment.

Back home, she took the drugs as instructed and few weeks later, Pokuaa developed severe stomach problems and complications, forcing the pregnancy to be aborted.

It did not end there, her health condition worsened and she died months later.

This is just one but many tragic and sad stories the public often hear from people with disability (PWDs) as they seek healthcare.

There are also challenges, relating to the construction of disability- friendly physical structures, especially for those suffering from speech, hearing and visual impairments.

There is also a communication barrier confronting PWDs due to lack of sign language interpreters in medical facilities, which is discriminatory and a serious obstacle, preventing them from receiving quality healthcare.

Children and pregnant women with hearing impairment are the worst victims, as medical staff struggle to understand them to determine the right treatment to give them.

There abound reported and unreported cases, similar to that of Pokuaa across the country and this could be one of the factors fueling maternal and child deaths.

The unacceptably high national maternal deaths continue to be a source of discomfort to many including the government, health care professionals, administrators and civil society groups.

This raises legitimate concerns about Ghana’s ability to attain the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Four and Five – reduction in maternal and child mortality, set for 2015, with just two years away.

Ashanti Region, for instance, continues to rank high in maternal deaths ranking.

Records at the Regional Health Directorate show that these cases rose from 163 per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 207 per 100,000 live births in 2011.

Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital has always been recording higher figures due to its central location and as the only tertiary referral facility in the northern sector.

The identified causes are eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy), undue delays in transporting women in labour to the health facilities and slow response to emergencies by the medical facilities.

It is to address these challenges that the Directorate is collaborating with civil society groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other stakeholders to promote sustainable health education in the communities.

One of such groups is the Ghana Coalition of NGOs in Health , an umbrella body of NGOs and civil society organisations in health, which is working in the area of advocacy to bring down maternal and child mortality in the region.

The Coalition organised a forum in Kumasi, on the theme: “Maternal health issues, challenges in attaining reproductive health MDG indicators in Ashanti Region – The concern for all stakeholders,” to draw attention to the alarming situation.

The Coalition says it is also preparing to launch an advocacy project to push for the introduction of sign language interpretation at the health facilities.

The focus would be on immediate provision of basic and simple sign language training to all health workers – medical officers, midwives and nurses.

It would culminate in the inclusion of basic sign language in the curriculum of all the health training institutions and medical schools.

Mr Oracca Tetteh, Regional Chairman of the Coalition, told  Ghana News Agency in an interview that, the need for the training has become urgent in view of the serious challenges the PWDs encounter daily in accessing quality healthcare.

It is important that such advocacy programme is supported by all who believe in equality and justice to help remove discrimination and ensure that every Ghanaian has equal access to quality medical care regardless of one’s physical situation.

Strengthening access is the key to achieving universal health for all and I hope health policy makers and implementers will accept the idea and aggressively work towards it.

The time to stop the discrimination is now!  It is important to create the opportunity for all Ghanaians to access quality health services to enhance the health of the nation.

By Kwabia Owusu-Mensah
Source: GNA

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