Pressure group OccupyGhana has called for an investigations into the sporadic disease infections that has plague the implementation of the flagship Free Senior High School (Free SHS) programme of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP).
Below if the statement the group issued in Accra last Monday in Accra.
STATEMENT TO THE HEALTH MINISTER ON THE OUTBREAK OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES IN SENIOR HIGH SCHOOLS
Infectious diseases still play a significant role in the health of Ghanaians. These diseases, some of which are highly contagious, are fortunately preventable and treatable. Their control however demands sustained and well-financed public health measures. A lack of such measures, their inadequate finance or incomplete implementation can lead to deaths.
It must be noted that some of these diseases are endemic to certain areas of the country while others occur everywhere. Some like meningitis tend to be seasonal while others like malaria may occur year round. What is common to all these diseases is that they are often found in places where people live in close proximity with each other. Our boarding schools and universities are such institutions that come to mind.
And so does OccupyGhana® note with concern the outbreak of infectious diseases in senior high schools in various parts of the country with at least 8 fatalities this year. In particular, we refer to the outbreak of H1N1 Flu in Kumasi Academy where 4 students have died and many others taken ill and hospitalised, and Meningitis in Koforidua Sec. Tech., Damango Snr. High School, and most recently Bawku Sec. Tech. School.
The questions that arise from these events are whether Ghana has adequate and well-financed public health measures to deal with these outbreaks and if these measures, if available, are implemented properly.
In a nutshell, these measure should include:
· a vaccination or prophylaxis program to protect against contracting these diseases,
· practices that help in protecting one from contracting them,
· a centre manned by trained professionals that monitors the incidence and outbreaks,
· a good reporting system that allows outbreaks to be reported,
· a team that responds to these reports of outbreaks,
· an incident manager to supervise the management of each outbreak,
· an effective way of quarantining affected individuals or communities,
· an effective way of tracking down individuals who may be carriers,
· a clear way of reassuring the public about the measure taken and their safety and those of their families
· a program to treat the sick and
· measures to get the outbreak under control.
From all the reports of what happened in Kumasi Academy a few weeks ago, several issues become apparent:
· there is a reporting system that allows outbreaks to be reported to the Ministry of Health/ Ghana Health Service (GHS),
· the response from the GHS was adequate,
· it is unclear if autopsies were done on all 4 deceased students,
· diagnosis of the cause was rapid,
· quarantining of the affected students and areas was not good. The president visited the school in that period,
· there seems to be no vaccines available for the H1N1,
· there was a breakdown in adequate communication to the community about the outbreak and the measures being taken.
Considering these listed observations, what has happened at several schools so far, and the fact that we have entered the annual season for meningitis and outbreaks are expected in the meningitis belt, we respectfully ask the Minister of Health to provide answers to the following questions:
· Are our public health measure against infectious diseases well-funded?
· What steps has the ministry taken to protect the public and SHS students from meningitis?
· Have teachers and school staff been educated about meningitis?
· Have students been immunised against meningitis and other preventable infectious diseases?
· Is there an effective communication strategy with the public and the media and who are the frontline communicators?
· Are the response teams allowed to quarantine affected individuals or even communities? Do we need the help of the military for that?
· Is there always an incident manager designated to manage the control of these outbreaks?
· What steps have been taken to enhance sanitation and hygiene and reduce congestion in schools?
· Could the GHS publish protocols to deal with outbreaks for schools?
Infectious diseases, though devastating in their effects, are also controllable and preventable. Let’s all work together to get a handle on them for a healthier Ghana for God and Country.