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Opinions of Friday, 17 May 2013

Columnist: Owusu, Stephen Atta

Shameful Diseases Disappear From Ghana

Progress in Ogyakrom: Shameful Diseases Disappear From Ghana

This article will primarily consider the common diseases and infections that were predominant in Ghana. It is quite amazing that these diseases have either reduced drastically or completely disappeared from the system. This commendable situation is largely due to improvement in hygiene, medicine and improved literacy rate.

One of the most disgraceful parasitic insects that disturbed the human hair was lice. The singular form is louse. It is a wingless usually flattened bloodsucking insect, parasitic on warm-blooded animals. They have mouth parts adapted for piercing and sucking blood and body fluids from their hosts. Lice thrive mostly in dirty hair and can easily be passed on from one person to the other by the sharing of combs or hair brushes. Lice is one of the most disgraceful parasites that can affect the human hair. When the eggs (tiny, yellowish and spherical) become visible in the hair, and lice begin to fall on one's shirt, the disgrace and humiliation they cause can be enormous. Cures consisted of applying various chemicals to the hair but the best cure was to completely cut off the hair to the skin (sakora) and washing the head afterwards. Today lice is no longer a problem in Ghana because both children and adults no longer leave their hair to overgrow. It has become trendy for people to cut their hair down. This has helped to eradicate or at least greatly reduce the occurrence of lice in the Ghanaian hair.

The next terrible disease that seems to have disappeared from Ghana is goitre, which is spelled "goiter" by Americans. It is a non-cancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland. A person with goitre can either have a high or low thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly located at the base of the neck below the Adam's apple. Goitre is not painful but when the gland enlarges, swallowing becomes difficult. This disease is largely caused by lack of iodine in the diet. Iodine can mainly be found in seafood and salt. During the colonial era in the then Gold Coast, it was very hard to come by salt and seafood. To obtain these, one had to travel by foot from the Southern and the Northern regions to the Central region to buy fish and salt. Not many people could walk that long distance only to purchase salt. Many people then consumed food which was deficient in iodine thus resulting in the spread of goitre in those regions. Today, it is not difficult to come by salt and seafood. Even many vegetables we consume contain iodine. Goitre is almost non-existent in today's Ghana.

Bow legs or rickets is another disease that is seldom seen in modern day Ghana. When a person gets this problem the legs are curved either behind or sideways in a shape of a bow. Rickets is a childhood bone disorder, in which bones soften, bend and become prone to fractures and deformity. It was fairly common in Ghana during the 19th century. Rickets are caused by deficiency in vitamin D and not having enough calcium in the diet. Some kidney and liver diseases may also cause rickets.

When I was a child I saw a man whose right leg was three times larger than the left one. I took to my heels because I was so scared of him. As I grew up, I came to know that disease condition is known as elephantiasis. It is a disease that causes the skin to thicken. It is characterized by up to three times its normal diameter. It is a gross and mostly visible enlargement of arms, legs and genitals to that of an elephant size as the name implies. It can also affect the trunk, head, breast and other body parts. This is a lymphatic disease that affected one million people in Ghana and 120 million people worldwide according to a health magazine in Britain. It is a parasitic disease which is prevalent in tropical areas. In theory, the cause of this disease is simple but it is actually quite complex. Thread-like parasitic worms are transmitted by mosquitoes until they mature as adult parasites living in the human lymphatic system where they block the associated lymphatic vessels.

This disease has successfully been prevented and controlled in Ghana, thanks to the efforts of medical science and the production of new and improved drugs that fight against the disease when detected early. About fifty years ago when it was difficult to detect the worms early, they grew and no drug used was effective. According to medical experts, elephantiasis will soon be a thing of the past.

A group of boys was playing football at a village park. One of the boys kicked the ball very hard and it went straight into a nearby bush. They all rushed to search for the ball. Along the way, they met a man who had a bulge in his trousers, just about the size of their ball. The children followed him and pleaded with him to remove their ball which he had hidden in his trousers and give it to them. Little did they know that the man was suffering from a disease known as orchitis (Etwo in the Twi language). It is the inflammation of one or both testicles. It is characterized by pain and swelling. Orchitis is caused by either bacterial or viral infection. Bacterial orchitis is most often the result of inflammation of the coiled tube that connects the vas deferens and the testicles. Vas deferens is part of the male anatomy. They transport sperms from the epididymis in anticipation of ejaculation. When inflammation in the epididymis spreads to the testicles, the resulting condition is known as epididymis orchitis. This type of disease is caused by an infection of the urethra or bladder that spreads to the epididymis. Often the cause of the infection is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), particularly gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Other causes of infection may be related with having been born with abnormalities in your urinary tract or having had a cathether or medical instrument inserted into your penis. There is also the viral orchistis which results from the mumps virus. About a third of males who contract the mumps after puberty develop orchitis during the course of the mumps usually four to five days from the onset. In Ghana today, due to effective and early control, orchitis is rarely seen among Ghanaian men.

A popular joke in Ghana explains how much the stammerer suffers in his attempt to speak or explain himself. A stammerer who had eaten heavily sat in a bus from Kumasi to Accra. Along the way he felt the urgent need to ease himself. He needed the driver's attention so he called to the mate, "mei mei mate ple ple please te te tell the adri adri driver to sto sto stop at the kakahin kakahin kaka KVIP tor tor toilet". The mate himself was a stammerer and before he could explain it to the driver, the man had eased himself in his trousers. Stammering is a very sad and embarrassing speech disorder in which a person repeats or prolongs word syllables or phrases or utters words with involuntary stops or repetition.

For all the years I have spent in Europe, I have never seen a white person stammer. There may be few cases but I never saw one. Will it be right to say that stammering is more prevalent among Blacks? Thank God that stammering is gradually disappearing from Ghana. Research has not been able to show completely what makes a person to stammer. It begins when a child begins to talk. When a baby becomes frightened by something, the speech of the baby or child can be impaired. In Europe, there are associations for stammerers. They meet and discuss their problems, latest research, socialize and also act as a pressure group. Perhaps one day, Ghana will also have an association of stammerers. What will it be called? Assoociation of Ghanaian Stammerers (AGS) or Ghananaian Stammerers Association (GSA)? Your guess is as good as mine.

Gout was also a common disease which is gradually disappearing due to general hardship and poverty. Gout is a painful inflammation of the big toe and foot which is caused by defects in uric acid metabolism resulting in deposits of acid and its salts in the blood and joints. It is also an inflammation of the fibrous and ligamentous parts of the joints and almost always attacks the great toe first, next the smaller joints. It is also known as a rich man's disease because rich people were known to indulge in eating lots of expensive red meat and drinking beer which they alone could afford in the past. The general poverty in Ghana means gout is not as widespread as in the advanced country.

There are still certain diseases we have not yet eradicated. Tsetse flies are still causing sleeping sickness. Guinea worms are still causing havoc in the North. Children playing in the sand in the rural areas can still get jigger in their toes. And has Onchocerciasis (river blindness) really been eradicated from Ghana? The biggest killer disease of them all is still with us - malaria. Malaria carrying mosquitoes have caused havoc long before the white man set foot on our coasts. They are still torturing us quite apart from not letting us sleep smoothly at night.

But thank goodness, today, many a Ghanaian does not have to worry too much about lice, goitre, rickets, elephantiasis, or orchitis. Something to rejoice about, after all. As some of these problems, infection and diseases disappear from Ghana and other parts of the world, more dangerous and incurable diseases have come to replace them. HIV AIDS is one example and cancer is another. But these are modern day diseases that are not peculiar to third world countries like Ghana. But our poverty means that we have less ability to control them. It is the hope of everyone that medical solution will be found to infection and diseases that have claimed many lives.

Written by: Stephen Atta Owusu Author: Dark Faces At Crossroads Email:

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