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Opinions of Thursday, 29 April 2004

Columnist: GNA

Anaemia in pregnancy is preventable


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A GNA Feature by Linda Asante Agyei
Accra, April 28, GNA- If Money were all it takes to be pregnant and have babies, the rich would have gotten all the children with the poor having none. Bur since it takes more than just that, rich women with millions of cedis are hovering around the hospitals, churches, shrines, " babalawos" and native doctors, all in search for children, which more often than not, they do not get.
The funny thing is that, the poor who do not even know when and where their next meal is coming from, are those who get pregnant very easily, and when they do, some get twins, triplets and even others get quadruplets which they end up abandoning at the hospitals, some thrown into gutters, others left in bushes and some in pit latrines, all in the name of poverty.
Such women who have the means but are not getting pregnant would like to spend all they have just to protect the pregnancy should they get one and give birth to healthy babies.
Anaemia, defined as a reduced amount of haemoglobin in the blood or lower than the acceptable levels of haemoglobin in the blood is highly prevalent in the country, despite the fact that we have in abundance all the sources of nutrients enriched with iron, the major blood-forming nutrient that improves the haemoglobin levels.
Sources like fruits, meat, fish, peanuts, grains, green vegetables and others are in abundance but the sad aspect is that our mothers and sisters in the villages during the harvest sell the best part of their produce with the hope to get a good price and consume the 'bad' ones forgetting that they also deserve the best of the farm produce.
Even though anaemia has long been recognized in Africa as a major health problem, it is highly prevalent in Ghana and the fourth leading reason for admissions in many hospitals. It has been described as the second leading cause of death.
The main causes of anaemia can be attributed to poor diet that has low iron bio-availability (extent to which a nutrient is absorbed into the blood stream), low absorption enhancers, inhibitors, excessive blood loss, breakdown of the red blood cells and increased in the requirements of certain stages of the life cycle.
Malaria, other fever cases, parasitic worm infestations and genetic disorders have also been identified as other sources of anaemia. Statistics from the Nutrition Unit of the Ministry of Health's national study conducted in 1995, using the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards indicated that 64.5 per cent of pregnant women were anaemic whilst 59 per cent were lactating women.
Mrs. Kate Quashie, Anaemia Programme Coordinator in an interview, explained that six out of every 10 pregnant women selected, are anaemic. Isn't that serious?
It is estimated that 200 women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth due to anaemia related complications.
According to records, another 1,300 infants suffer birth defects including paralysis while 40-60 per cent of six to 24 years old children are at risk of disrupted brain development.
The consequences of anaemia in pregnancy are so dangerous that, many turn to overlook it, simply because of poverty. The poor pregnant woman will tell you "I do not have the money or the means to buy all these expensive food, whilst I have not even finished buying my baby's napkins".
Another side of it is that women always want to please their husbands by dishing out to them the nutritious part of meals while denying the pregnant women and the children who really needed the nutritious part most for their growth and development.
According to Mrs Quashie, anaemia has been identified as the major cause of maternal death associated with delivery, it has also been identified as directly related to increased risk of premature delivery, low birth weight, impaired physical growth, still birth and infant deaths.
Anaemia in pregnancy could also lead to anaemia in the fetus, damaging the brain of the fetus, which could cause a possible permanent impairment in mental ability of school children and adolescents. It is sad to note that anaemia; something that could be prevented and even controlled has taken a bigger percentage of causes of death in our hospitals, having all the sources of food and fruits that can enhance our iron level abundantly.
Nevertheless, Ghana, being at the forefront of developing new approaches to prevent and control the problem, has put in place some strategies to fight it.
The Ghana Health Service's new initiative will coordinate and strengthen programmes that will increase the intake of iron, control, prevent malaria and also reduce parasitic worms that cause blood loss. The USAID through its micronutrient programme has been at the forefront coordinating the control of anaemia and providing technical assistance for the development and implementation of a programme using the information, education and communication (IEC) components. Awareness programmes have been created with emphasis on how to prevent or control anaemia with the first phase focusing on pregnant women using the three proven interventions that are supplementary, education and fortification.
Dr Melveille George, World Health Organisation Country Representative, is of the opinion that education is paramount, if really, we have to break the dietary ignorance affecting the larger number of the population residing in the villages where ironically, nutritious foods are in abundance and sell at affordable prices. The campaign messages include the advice for women to visit the antenatal clinic as soon as they know they are pregnant.
They should also take their iron folate tablets daily throughout their pregnancy and even six weeks after delivery. Pregnant women should obtain malaria and de-worming treatments to ensure that their babies develop well.
Most importantly, they should eat food rich in iron (meats, poultry and fish) and some fruits everyday.
The anaemia programme though focusing on pregnant women and children, according to the coordinator, involves the entire family and the community as a whole.
The programme is encouraging all to support these actions so that Ghana can have a healthier and more productive population. 28 April 04


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