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Opinion Is the Health Ministry losing the war against Pneumococcal Meningitis?

The extent to which the outbreak of the deadly strain of Pneumococcal Meningitis continues to claim human lives has reached an alarming point. Pulse.com.gh reporter Mildred Europa Tayor looks into what could become a health crisis.

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Minister of Health, Alex Segbefia play

Minister of Health, Alex Segbefia

Over 32 people have been killed so far from the outbreak of Pneumococcal Meningitis, creating fear and panic among Ghanaians. When the news first broke out in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana, one would have expected that health authorities would be fast enough to prevent a spread of the disease.

However, almost two months on since the outbreak, efforts to control its spread are yet to show results. The outbreak of the disease which began in December 2015 in the Tain District of the Brong Ahafo Region later spread to Wenchi, Techiman, Bruohan, Kintampo, and Sene districts, all in the Brong Ahafo Region.

Bole in the Northern Region has also recorded some cases, with the latest being the Ashanti and Volta regions.

One cannot argue that the situation has persisted because of failure on the part of health authorities to tackle the disease at its sources.

Pneumococcal Meningitis is a deadly disease in which there is swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

It is caused by viral or bacterial infection, and marked by intense headache and fever, sensitivity to light, and muscular rigidity.

With transmission or spread of the disease happening by direct contact, including respiratory droplets from nose and throat of infected persons or carriers, one would have thought that much education and awareness creation would have been created around communities and towns, especially for people in the rural areas.

But, this has not been the case, with the result being a section of Ghanaians not having any knowledge about the disease.

What has been done so far since the outbreak

The Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Victor Asare Bampoe went to the Brong Ahafo region to assess the situation and ensure the outbreak is well managed.

The Ministry has subsequently indicated that government has set aside GHC 150,000 for the fight of the disease.

The Deputy Minister of Health also revealed that the Health Ministry is seeking support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to handle the outbreak.

“The WHO has already supplied laboratory equipment and has indicated that it will continue to support government with the needed antibiotics to contain the spread,” he said at a press conference on Monday, January 25, 2016.

Dr. Bampoe further said the Health Ministry is intensifying its education and community-based surveillance in the affected communities.

“In all the epidemics that we have had, we don’t have any established cases of health workers getting the CSM transferred to them.

“We are confident that if health workers employ the nose mask and the normal barrier nursing methods, then they should not be at risk, so that is not an issue,” he added.

What is lacking in the fight against the disease

Following the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease in Guinea, which spread to other African countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, one would have expected Ghana's government to take a cue from that and give the deadly Pneumococcal Meningitis all the needed attention it deserved. The following are additional emergency steps I believe Government should have taken to curb the situation:

1.  The National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), Civil Society Organisations, the media and other stakeholders should have been charged by government to offer massive public education on the disease, especially for people living in overcrowded communities and rural areas so they could protect themselves from the disease.

2.  What is more, the Health Ministry must adopt the clinical use of Isolation centers, while tracking and increasing surveillance of affected persons and other persons they had had contact with.  

3.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) which has expressed readiness to help Ghana fight the deadly disease had earlier indicated that vaccination could be used to contain the situation.

Most cases of Pneumococcal Meningitis are in children under two years of age, elderly adults and people with risk factors. But, how many have been vaccinated so far against the disease?

The Health Minister, Alex Segbefia has subsequently assured that his Ministry will  procure vaccines for the deadly disease through sole sourcing.

Due to the intensity of the outbreak, I hope that the move for vaccination would be followed to the latter.

The way forward

Ghanaians in the Greater Accra region and others living in the southern parts of the country should not cross their arms and assume they have been spared. The disease is spreading fast, with seven suspected cases having been reported in the Volta region on Tuesday.

This means you and I are all at risk of being infected if government fails to be on high alert.

With Ghana's poor Road Naming exercise, there is no denying the fact that health authorities would find it difficult to locate the persons affected so far and track their activities with other persons.

Nevertheless, government must be on its toes more than ever to contain the disease and avert future deaths.

Besides, addressing the problem of Pneumococcal Meningitis will prove to be an uphill task if authorities fail to deal with the root cause of the outbreak.

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