Health officials in Ghana are worried the rainy season, due to start in April, will fuel the spread of cholera, which has killed at least 69 people and stricken more than 5,000 in the past few months.
Five of Ghana’s 10 regions are affected, with Accra seeing the highest number of deaths to date – 36.
While Ghana has not pinpointed the source of the cholera bacterium, top health officials say poor sanitation systems and hygiene habits – including open defecation – are largely to blame for the epidemic, which they say is the worst in a decade. Authorities say it is time to crack down on open defecation, irregular rubbish collection and unhygienic food stands.
“My greatest fear is that the rains are coming yet the very conditions that triggered this epidemic are still there,” Director of Ghana Health Service Elias Sory told IRIN.
“People are not keeping themselves and the city clean,” he said, noting that people commonly dispose of human faeces in waterways and that, given the widespread use of makeshift wells, such actions are probably contaminating drinking water.
Greater Accra Regional Minister Nii Armah Ashitey has called on city authorities to improve sanitation. He said people who defecate in undesignated places should be prosecuted and food vendors should not be allowed to sell near drainage canals.
Authorities recently met with waste management companies to clear up unpaid debts, as rubbish is piling up where workers have stopped collecting.
Struggling to cope
Accra’s Korle-bu Teaching Hospital – Ghana’s main hospital – is overwhelmed and lacks materials and space to cope with the epidemic, according to Philip Amoo, Korle-bu head of public health. IRIN saw a number of cholera patients lying on benches in hospital corridors.
The government recently released five million cedis (US$3.2 million) for cholera control efforts, but doctors said more supplies and medicines, as well as better public education, are needed immediately.
The government is also asking local authorities across the country to inspect bore holes for contamination. About 59 percent of Ghana’s 24 million people, and about half of Accra’s 3.2 million, have access to potable water, according to the Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing. Many in the capital dig wells in their yards.
Contracted through contaminated food or water, cholera generally occurs in the rainy season but outbreaks can occur when it is dry, according to the World Health Organisation. Ghana has two rainy seasons – April to July and September to November. But this year torrential rains came in January.