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Health News of Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Source: Graphic Online

Intensify education on buruli ulcer

Battles are fought and won on the field but the battle over the painful affliction of buruli ulcer really needs to be fought in the minds of the people who suffer it.

It is rather unfortunate that many inhabitants of the various villages around Amasaman who have been infected with this disease and have suffered various deformities on their bodies believe that they have been cursed or are under some kind of spiritual curse.

That is why despite the fact that health personnel have advised the inhabitants of Kojo Ashon a farming community near Amasaman and other surrounding villages such as Oboum, Dom and Sampama, against drinking from the Okudja River because it is believed the virus that causes the buruli ulcer disease can be found in it, they ignore the warning and still use it daily.

Indeed, it has been established that communities which engage in sand winning and mining activities often suffer buruli ulcer. It is, therefore, obvious from a visit to Amasaman and its surrounding villages that sand winning might be one or the main culprits for the problem of buruli ulcer in the area.

It has been explained that the buruli ulcer virus can be found in the soil and when the earth surface is disturbed, it exposes the virus. And for the people of Amasaman, who engage in sand winning activities, the virus is washed into the river when it rains and because the inhabitants of those areas depend heavily on the river for drinking, cooking as well as for washing their clothes, they easily get infected.

Among the villages, the inhabitants of Kojo Ashon have the highest number of cases of buruli ulcer.

Investigations by this reporter revealed that three boreholes have been dug for the people of Kojo Ashon to provide them with potable water and prevent them from using the polluted water from the river.

It is surprising that some of the people still depend on the water from the river despite the numerous educational campaigns to inform them about the dangers of using the water from the river.

On interviewing some inhabitants of the area, they gave varied reasons for not using water from the borehole.

They complained that the water from the borehole was salty and, therefore, could not be used for cooking, drinking or washing.

One other problem, according to the inhabitants, was the payment of 10 pesewas before drawing water from the borehole. Most of the citizens complained they could not afford it.

They, therefore, depended on the water from the river which they fetched at no cost to them. However, checks from the boreholes revealed that only one borehole had salty water.

The buruli ulcer coordinator for the communities, Mr Cyrus Tetteh, said in order to reduce the financial burden on the inhabitants, it was agreed that every household paid Gh¢1 at the end of every month as maintenance fee for the borehole.

He said households which were unable to pay that sum had to pay a token of 10 pesewas whenever they fetched water from the borehole.

Despite this arrangement, inhabitants of the villages had chosen to drink from the contaminated river.

With the continued cases of infection of buruli ulcer in those communities, health personnel in the area have intensified education on the disease and the need for the people to use the clean water from the boreholes.

The target group for this education campaign has been schoolchildren who in turn educate their parents on the dangers associated with the continuous use of water from the river.

At the Kojo Ashon Methodist School, a number of the pupils who have been affected by the disease said, health personnel had organised educational programmes to make them aware of the possible causes of the disease.

The schoolchildren, who act as agents of change, said when they went back home to educate their parents on the causes of the diseases, their parents often ignored them arguing that their ancestors had drunk the water since time immemorial but nothing happened to them.

Meanwhile, some of the children who have scars on their bodies as a result said they had stopped fetching or drinking water from the river and were free from infection.

Felix Otu, a 15-year-old Form One student of Kojo Ashon Methodist School, said he used to fetch water from the river but ever since he got to know that he could get infected, he had stopped and rather used the water from the borehole.

Richard Lotsu, 14, who was also infected with the disease four years ago, said his family drank from the river but had stopped after he was treated and educated on the disease.

There would be the need for more educational programmes for the older people in the communities to appreciate the need to use the water from the boreholes and not count the cost.

According to Dr Janet Pereko, a specialist surgeon at the Amasaman Hospital, even if a person had bruises or cuts on the body and went into the river, he or she could be infected with the disease. He also advised all people in the villages to keep their communities clean because the virus thrived in dirty environments.

He added that NGOs which assisted communities with water and sanitation facilities and benevolent organisations should be brought on board to help dig additional boreholes for them so that they could have potable water to help curb the disease.

If the fight against buruli ulcer will be won, intensive education will have to be directed at all inhabitants in the villages about the causes of the disease.

If a number of citizens desist from drinking from the river and others in the communities see that they do not get infected with the disease, it is likely that many more will accept that buruli ulcer infection is not a curse or a spiritual spell.

Once they know how the disease begins, it is likely that they will report at the health centres early for treatment instead of going to herbalists for herbs, cow dung, charcoal or pepper to smear on the sores to worsen their condition.

For now, health personnel in the villages need to pay regular visits to households to screen members for the disease while educating them on the early signals of buruli ulcer.

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