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Opinions of Saturday, 23 August 2014

Columnist: Tilapia

Ignorance – a more widespread and dangerous epidemic than ebola

Ignorance – a more widespread and dangerous epidemic than ebola and cholera combined


I commend the authorities for at least making an effort - even if belated and theatrical, to combat any invasion into Ghana of the dreadful Ebola disease at the KIA. Where we have now reached in this country, we can only thank God for small mercies. While we have the time and life, we should take this opportunity of having been spared of any contamination, to seriously strategize against any possible outbreak anywhere in Ghana.


In all epidemics, the vast majority of sufferers are usually the deprived and wantonly ignorant sections of the population. In this case, they are the ones who would be more prone to innocent and reckless contact with other infected persons. These may either be infected friends and relations or persons arriving in the country through the many unapproved border points. Whatever the case may be, in this particular instance of the Ebola virus, we are all at risk once the disease shows up in this country.


The question to ask therefore is that, have we organized any serious, meaningful or effective anti-Ebola awareness publicity campaigns at such remote and obscure areas of the country, in the general public domain, at specific mass congregation areas in the public domain, or even at our hospitals? The answer would very likely be a big NO!


Due to our typically flagrant disregard of the need to maintain the most basic sanitary and hygienic conditions in our homes, in our lifestyles and in our immediate surroundings and environment, I have always opined that God, in His infinite wisdom, has been excessively kind to Africans. He has protected us to escape the pains of many beckoning ailments to which we unwittingly lend ourselves.


In fact, I dare conjecture that, it is either due to the excess compassionate and Almighty benevolence of God towards Africa which has spoilt us, or, it is due to the evil contempt of Africa harboured by the agents of the devil, who through slavery and colonialism, defiled the sensibilities of the once proud and civilized nature of Africa, that has corrupted Africans to become so despondent about life. I am strongly inclined to suspect that it is the psychological consequence of the specific historical misfortune that has reduced Africans into a state of anomie which allows us to wallow in filth without the faintest sense of remorse. Even in the threatening face of certain death, we casually ignore, we taunt, we laugh about it in mock derision and we defy - in the most reckless manner, a multiplicity of diseases, epidemics and the general safety of the well-being of our physical health and our moral sensitivities, each and every day of our lives.

For example, this morning, like all other uneventful mornings, as I drove over the first bridge that spans the point of convergence between the sea and the Korle Lagoon, there, in the full view of the public, was the habitual presence of several groups of local fishermen pulling their fishing nets to land a catch of fish from the sea, through a discoloured stretch of murky-brown tint of coastal sea-water. The owners of several expensive looking vehicles had parked nearby, alongside the road to buy some of the ‘fresh’ fish which had apparently been pulled ashore earlier, through the same murky-brown coastal sea water.


I may spoil your appetite for fish for some time, if, as I am about to do, I should confess that the murky-brown stretch of coastal sea water is nothing but a lethal cocktail of several tons of excrement that is illegally dumped into the sea by cesspit emptying trucks at ‘Lavender Hill’, on the Korle Gonno coastal stretch, every morning. This criminal activity takes place about only a couple of hundred yards from where the fisher-folk were busily harvesting fish, which obviously flock to that particular area of the coastal sea-waters, every morning when ‘breakfast’ is served.


This shameful and appalling practice has been going on at that particular location for decades. The various Mayors, Members of Parliament, Ministers of State and even Presidents of Ghana, throughout these decades, have frequently passed by Lavender Hill on their way to or from, other ‘more important’ meetings. I can well imagine that at best, they would crack jokes amongst themselves about the origins and the intensity of the unbearable stench that hangs over the whole area, just 500 yards from the Korle Bu Hospital.


This is not all there is to it. The lethal cocktail of murky-brown sea water, is in addition, spiced up with a generous touch of raw untreated effluent that seeps from post-mortem activities on diseased bodies of corpses at the Korle Bu mortuary, into the Korle Lagoon, just across the road where the main mortuary is located. Cross my heart, I am not making this gruesome story up, nor exaggerating the details to make my article more gory, dramatic and sensational. About two years ago, I found out to my utmost chagrin that the mortuary of the Korle Bu hospital did not have enough funds to rehabilitate their damaged sewerage system to enable them to efficiently dispose of hospital sewage from the morgue. I must admit that, I do not have the heart to go back there again to verify if there has been any new developments, but looking at general trends in that hospital, I believe that nothing much has changed since then.


This is not all, there is to it. What is now erroneously referred to as the Korle lagoon, which is actually the living sanctuary of a major Ga (Accra) deity, is in truth, now a huge pool of the daily excrement of about 50,000 and more squatters of Sodom and Gomorrah who live along the banks of what was once the Korle lagoon. This gargantuan mass of piss and shit – excuse my accuracy of speech, flows steadily under the two Korle Lagoon bridges to the point where the fishermen are happily going on about their daily business of catching toxic ‘excremented’ fish and freely selling these to an unsuspecting public. It must also be said that hundreds of thousands of commuters are routinely exposed to this monumental environmental hazard each and every blessed day as they go on about their business, to and from Accra Central, over those two bridges.


Many people complain about the unmistakable stench persistently hanging over that area which is just about 500 yards to the so-called biggest (?) hospital in West Africa - the Korle Bu Hospital. I have often explained that, if it was just the stench that they are worried about, that would be just fine to live with. But what really appears to be a stench is actually an accumulation of many dangerous pathogens and gaseous volatile substances, slowly evolving into an explosive combustion of one epidemic or the other.


Again, this is not all, there is to it. Further up the Odaw river/canal that feeds into what was once the Korle Lagoon, many heavy industries along the banks at the Accra South Industrial area, as well as the hundreds of Odawnaa mechanical workshops, also discreetly or nonchalantly, dump their hazardous chemical wastes into the river/canal to add to the simmering brew of death.


This is not all there is to it but, I will leave the rest for another time so as to not create unnecessary ‘fear and panic’.


However, looking at the conditions in which some of our brothers and sisters live, even in and around in Accra, where there is currently supposed to be a cholera outbreak that has affected thousands, and killed hundreds of people, one can only surmise that all the known laws of science, relating to our health and existence, somehow cannot be right. Either Africans are stubbornly impervious or resistant to some viruses or, science, as we know it, has got it all wrong. Even our psychological make-up seems to resist the natural tendency to strive towards forging ahead for the good things in life.


The filthy conditions in which we choose to live, defy all the known findings of science on the subject-matter of health, diseases and ‘modern’ medical knowledge. In spite of the fact that we continue to train and educate at great cost, men and women in various scientific and medical disciplines, engineers of various kinds, architects, lawyers, administrators, masons, carpenters, plumbers and what have you, we still continue to build, as we speak, open sewers instead of subterranean (underground) sewers – note, not covered surface sewers. The building of open sewers which are the corruption laden preserve of political party foot-soldiers, are seldom built in an expedient manner which allow the smooth flow of liquid waste. However these open sewers serve to save many people the need to build toilet facilities in their permanent and make-shift homes. That is where they dump their refuse and household excrement in plastic bags. And that is why Accra stinks so terribly.


Most Ghanaians - even in Accra the capital, live under deplorable insanitary conditions which can trigger all sorts of illnesses and epidemics at any time. What makes all this more frightening is that, the City authorities hardly give a damn about any of this. They are rather interested in pursuing pipe dreams of branding Accra as a millennium City to conceal the infernal filth we live so comfortably with, and to distract our attention from their crass incompetence. Otherwise how can it be possible that the Accra suburbs of Bukom and James Town for example, can continue to remain in the unspeakably obscene and revolting conditions which they are in? Just passing through Bukom and observing the eerie and oppressive filth in which the people live, can put you off food for a whole week. Cholera and Ebola aside, how can we do this to ourselves?


Strangely, our medical personnel are no different in this professionally apathetic attitude towards life. It has been reported that medical staff at the Korle Bu Hospital have threatened not to deal with any Ebola related illness when or if the situation does arise on their doorstep. They claim that govt has not provided them with adequate directives and protective apparatus. After almost a whole week, this unfortunate statement has not been refuted by the Ghana Medical Association, which means that they endorse it as well. My dismay is that, if our men of science and medicine are also not ready to deal with such problems, who can we fall on to help us out in these dire moments?


Whilst medical personnel and even laymen in other countries are busy going out of their way to find precautionary measures, solutions and antidotes to this deadly disease, this is the sickening position of our ‘elitist’ doctors and nurses. Whilst we were falsely nursing some hope and confidence in them to deal with the Ebola predicament, they are rather waiting for Govt to tell them what to do and to provide them with the necessary logistics, equipment and directives, otherwise, no deal, we can all literally go to hell and somersault!


We now find ourselves in a situation that tells me that the “each one for himself and God for us all” philosophy, prevails. Who can now convince me that we need to continue paying our doctors at the unrealistically enhanced par with doctors from countries which are light years ahead of us economically, and who are in addition, even prepared to take the risk of travelling down to Africa to save the situation against Ebola for the sake of mankind? A big shame unto our doctors. Sha-sha-sha, shaaaaaame!


At the very least, I would have expected that the Ghana Medical Association would come out to educate the public on how we can all in our private little ways combat the threat of both the cholera and the Ebola virus. But No! On the spurious contention that Ebola is a whole new different kettle of fish that cannot be joked with, our medical personnel will not even go out of their arrogant ways to do us this simple favour.


This morning before I set out to write this piece, I overheard on the radio, a representative of the Junior doctors threatening to withdraw their services if they are not educated on how to wear, use and dispose of the protective-clothing against the Ebola disease. Contrary to common-sense, they also want to be directed by the ‘authorities’ as to what to do in the event of an Ebola outbreak. We live in strange times don’t we? I would have thought that even nurses were in a sufficiently knowledgeable and authoritative position – as far as health delivery issues are concerned, to educate, instruct and inform the public about what basic things to do to prevent infection. What is this we are hearing about doctors waiting for instructions as to what to do from non-medical people in authority?


Since our doctors have apparently taken a stand to renege on their professional responsibilities and the Hippocratic Oath, leaving us staring hopelessly into open space, I who failed biology at my O-Levels, will make a desperate last ditch attempt to provide a layman's effort to help save the general public from the threatening epidemic - just in case.


I offer below, personal views which, hopefully, can considerably alleviate our mutual efforts to ward off the threatening epidemics which have menacingly besieged us as a country. “When sea dry, man shall go by land”.


1. Any member of the public who is not sure about the outward symptoms of the disease, should contact the nearest clinic, hospital or Police station, where information material on the two diseases ‘should’ by now, be freely and copiously made available. If they are not available, govt should quickly make the effort to do so, with minimum delay.


2. All barbering shops, beauticians s, hair-dresser, manicure and pedicure service providers etc, should ensure that they have sterilizing equipment or processes to avoid passing body fluids and viruses from one client to the other. The AMA and all other District Assemblies, whose duty it is to do this, but are clearly and typically not doing so, are reminded that this is their responsibility which they should revisit. We are – or should be in an emergency situation which should not brook any kind of incompetence and lethargy.


3. All District Assembly institutions across the country, should again ensure that all public food vendors, especially the ones who sell cooked food that is exposed to bare body contact, i.e. banku, fufu, ‘face the wall’, grinded pepper etc, must, as much as possible, desist from continuing this mode of food preparation and find more innovative and hygienic ways to, for example roll a ball of banku without using their bare hands. The high temperature of the banku that is manually moulded, warms up and induces sweat from the glands of the palm of the hands directly into the rolled banku. Epidemic or no epidemic, we cannot remain primitive in our set ways of doing things forever.


4. Drivers of all commercial vehicles should ensure, firstly for their own safety and that of the public, to clean or wash their vehicles - particularly their door-handles, seats and head-rests with disinfectants, after work or first thing before they commence work every day.


5. Any (commercial) vehicle that is used to transport a suspected Ebola or cholera patient must be quarantined without fail by the hospital until the patient is declared free from any of the two contagions. If on the other hand the patient is declared positive, the vehicle must be properly and immediately fumigated, sterilized or decontaminated before being put back into regular usage for the public. In addition, the Health Authorities should thoroughly sensitize the public of the emergency numbers of ambulances that may be called to ferry suspected patients to the nearest medical isolation areas. This is because I anticipate that very soon, commercial vehicles and Taxi drivers will refuse to transport potentially sick patients to any hospital for the genuine fear of contracting any of the two lethal diseases.


6. Until the two epidemics are cleared, the public is advised not to buy and eat uncovered food sold in the open, especially foods that are sold near public toilets, rubbish dumps or choked gutters.


7. All public toilet supervisors are advised in their own interest and that of the public, to keep a keen eye on clients who may show symptoms of the two epidemics. They are reminded that public toilets, which are overwhelmingly patronized by a cross-section of people from the community and the public at large, are the first destination of people who are more prone than the rest of society to suffer from the cholera or Ebola epidemic. Therefore, the risk of many more people getting infected from public toilets is high. Most importantly, the sharing of rented enema accoutrements (bentoa) which believe it or not, is a popular practice at our public toilets, must henceforth be considered as a crime.


8. The public is again reminded that they should avoid public gatherings and the unnecessary shaking of hands. Thus far, people seem to treat the warning about shaking of hands as a joke. It must be understood that this is a serious disease that has the potential to wipe many of us out within days if or when it gets a hold in the public domain. There is no cure for Ebola and it will be too late to take preventive measures when or if the virus hits our shores.


9. All Assemblymen must be provided with quantities of protective clothing that should then be immediately provided to close family members for use in managing a family-member in the case of a suspected Ebola emergency in the local community.


10. As points of mass congregation and therefore, a likely location of a high risk of cross-infection, students as well as teachers of all local primary schools, secondary and tertiary institutions, should be well-informed of the nature of the two epidemics and also make it a point to have periodic Cholera and Ebola drills as a security deterrent against a possible widespread outbreak.


11. Churches, mosques as well as other religious institutions and social events centers, nightclubs, public entertainment venues and all locations of mass human congregation, should also take similar necessary precautionary measures as mentioned above, to stem or avert the incidence of contamination and spread of any of the two viruses.


12. I also hold the various players of the mass media in Ghana, equally guilty of gross inaction in these times of crises. That very little is known by medical and health practitioners as well as most importantly, the general public, of how to deal with both cholera - which we are all familiar with but not reasonably armed against, and the more serious Ebola, which is a relatively unknown disease with no positively known cure yet, can be largely attributed to the palpable inaction by the media on the subject-matter.


If our electronic media for instance, can put aside the inane and pointless squabbling about who is more corrupt than the other, between the NDC and the NPP, that takes an incredibly vast amount of valuable time on prime time news coverage and discussion programs, and this is profitably replaced by a serious and calculated dissemination of information of what is known of the Ebola virus, I believe that many more medical service providers as well as members of the public will be more than ready to counteract and avert the possible spread of both diseases instead of threatening to flee when patients are wheeled in to hospitals. Ignorance is the biggest pandemic in this country. Ignorance is a much bigger disease than malaria, typhoid, AIDS, TB, Hepatitis B, Ebola, Cholera, Diabetes and cardiac problems all rolled into one. Therefore, no effort is too small to cure it.


13. The education on the necessity of regularly washing hands must be stepped up. In addition, the public must be made aware of the benefits of frequent washing of hands and the superior efficacy of using hand sanitizers. One way or the other, govt must find a way to flood the public domain with less costly sanitizers that everyone can afford and use. The genuine hand sanitizer is something that today, everyone must be made aware of its benefits and which everyone should have on their person at all times.


14. Public utility offices such as the Post Office, Electricity, Water, airports, long-distance buses, internet Cafes, drinking spots, offices of telecommunication service providers, harbours, market-places, shops, super-markets, shopping-malls, vehicle & licensing offices, tax offices and other such places where there is a large congregation or movement of people from different places at most times of the day, should also be put on high alert to take the necessary precautionary measures.


15. The security forces should be put on high alert to quickly create a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around domestic residences, areas or communities where any possible outbreak of Ebola in particular, is declared. Inhabitants of any such quarantined areas will not be permitted to exit the area or receive visits until the disease is brought under control there. Medical and food supplies will be sent to such areas and distributed to the inhabitants under strict medical supervision by well-protected health personnel.


These are my 15 precautionary measures which if seriously considered and acted upon with a sense of urgency, will at least go to minimize the hazards of the two threatening epidemics. At the very least, the practical realization of propositions like this in the public domain, may help allay the pent-up fears and high anxieties of Ghanaians.


During times such as the one we find ourselves in, one wonders what the private sector is also doing about playing their part in stemming the increasing numbers of victims of particularly cholera and the threatening incursion of the Ebola epidemic. One would have thought that those overgrown impetuous boys from IMANI who have been incessantly vaunting the delusionary merits of the private sector in a depressed and under-developed economy such as ours, would have by now called upon their private sector colleagues to rise up to the occasion and take to the front-lines in the battle to resist the dual scourge to prove their mettle and merit in these times of crisis.


Why, for instance, should we have to continue to import on a large-scale, the plastic protective overalls that we see health practitioners wearing when treating or managing victims of the Ebola epidemic, from private producers of other countries? Would this be too difficult to produce here?


Why cant the smart, intelligent, more disciplined, proactive and creative private operators – as we are made to believe of them, in the domestic private sector, also take the simple but tremendously viable initiative, to produce these plastic overalls here in Ghana – even if they have to import them as an agency of producers elsewhere? Why cant they innovate new ways of also producing cheaper hand sanitizers from local ingredient substitutes? More often than not, the imported ones are beyond the purchasing reach of most Ghanaians.

Why cant the private sector also fund research into such diseases to produce drugs which can then be sold to resist or abate such epidemics? Africa is a fertile and prolific arena for alternative traditional medicine – so-called. So, what the ......... erm, hell, is the private sector waiting for? The uniquely prolific ecology and fauna of Africa abounds in limitless virgin options of unexploited traditional remedies and non-toxic health enhancement solutions, treatments and therapies.


Why does govt always have to initiate and shoulder all the responsibilities when the going is rough whilst the opportunistic private sector strolls in later when the storm is over, to cream off the profit with treacherous deceitful untruths such as “govt is incapable of efficient business management”?


Let us also see the private sector take a national initiative for once and roll into action against the Cholera and Ebola scourge. There is also plenty of money to be made there too, you know? (lol)

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