Story: Albert Sam, ACCRA
THE Ghana Health Service (GHS) has declared zero tolerance for the outbreak of Cholera this year and called for positive support from the populace to achieve resounding success.
Even though available statistics make the GHS task more formidable, indications are that the health authorities wish to place more emphasis on preventive rather than curative measures this year.
As part of measures aimed at prosecuting its ambitious agenda in a more positive way, the GHS has already issued a nationwide cholera alert to create the much-needed public awareness among the citizenry to make them support the programme by ensuring and maintaining clean and safe environment.
Information gathered by EcoWatch indicates that the GHS has adopted a more proactive approach to combating the seasonal outbreak of the disease this year.
A GHS source said the GHS was working relentlessly towards sensitising the population and urged chiefs, opinion leaders, Assembly Members, town and village committee members and the entire population to co-operate and support the cause.
Statistics on the outbreak of the disease for last year and 2017 were not immediately available at the time of going to press. However, in 2016, a total of 720 cases with no deaths were recorded in government hospitals across the country. The Cape Coast Municipality in the Central Region reported the highest number of cases, that is 695, followed by the Ashanti Region with nine cases, Greater Accra Region with eight cases, Western Region with five cases, Volta Region with two cases and Eastern Region with one case.
Cholera, an acute diarrhoeal infection of the intestine, is caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio. It continues to be a disease of public health concern that terrorises Ghanaians yearly.
The disease is an infectious disease that causes severe watery diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration and even death if untreated on time. It thrives on its short incubation period of a few hours to five days, giving it a potentially explosive pattern of outbreaks.
Although it can be cured and largely be prevented through the provision of safe water, good sanitation and enhanced personal hygiene, yet in the 21st century, the disease remains a threat to lives in many parts of the world, particularly in poor, low and middle-income countries.
Worldwide, an estimated three and half million cholera cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths due to cholera are recorded annually.
Among the World Health Organisation (WHO) regions classified as high cholera burdened countries, there are 69 countries identified as cholera endemic countries with an estimated 1.3 billion people at risk of the disease yearly.
Health experts estimate that there are over 20 million people who are at risk of developing the disease in Ghana with the most significant outbreak in 1999 in which over 9000 cases and 250 deaths were reported.
A decade and half after the 1999 outbreak, another outbreak in 2014 exposed the country’s continuous vulnerability to the disease, as a total of 28,975 cases with 243 deaths were reported from 130 out of the 216 districts in all 10 regions of the country then. Accra alone recorded more than 20,000 cases and 120 deaths, leaving the various health centres overstretched.
In 2015, the number of cases, however, dropped, as 618 cases were recorded with five deaths. The disease has remained endemic over the last decade particularly along the coastal communities. Currently Ghana has 16 regions, six new ones having been carved out from some of the 10 original regions. Annually, it is estimated that, 41,732 cholera cases occur in the country with an average case fatality rate of 3.8 per cent.
According to the GHS, the country’s cholera cases occur mainly in three regions, that is the Greater Accra, Eastern and Central regions, with the transmission and spread of the disease linked to demographic, socio-cultural, environmental and behavioural factors.
Last year, the Director General of the GHS, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, in a statement attributed the perennial outbreak of cholera in the country to attitudinal, saying: “With the onset of the rainy season and other prevailing conditions in certain locations in the country, the risk for cholera outbreaks is very high”. It is against this background that the GHS is being proactive this year and has issued the Cholera Alert with the onset of the rainy season.
According to health experts, cholera can be prevented by washing hands with soap under running water regularly especially, after visiting the toilet, before eating or feeding a child and before preparing food. In the absence of soap, one must use hand-sanitiser/alcohol rub, ash or sand and rinse with safe water
It can also be prevented through the drinking and use of safe water, cooking food well, eating food while it is hot and having it covered. Other measures to prevent the disease are by washing fruits and vegetables well before consumption and keeping your kitchen and places where your family bathes and washes clothes clean at all times
A health alert from the GHS advised persons who show signs and symptoms of cholera to report urgently to the nearest health facility for treatment. The GHS has also asked infected persons to prepare and start the drinking of Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS), while they travel to get treatment.