Health News of 2014-08-06

National response to Ebola poor — Prof. Dodoo

The Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Advocacy & Training in Pharmacovigilance, Professor Alex Dodoo, has observed that the national response to the Ebola scare is poor and woeful.

He said although there had not been any case of Ebola in Ghana, “regrettably, the communication with the public, healthcare workers and the media has been simply woeful."

“I am seeing Ebola as a symbol of how Ghanaians take things for a joke,” he told the Daily Graphic yesterday.

Prof Dodoo said many people kept calling their friends in the health sector to find out what they should do about Ebola, adding that there were so many rumours being peddled around.

“But one has to realise that the responsibility of the government, as the leader marshalling the health community, is to come together and say this is a crisis; it’s a crisis which, if it hits this country, can completely derail everything and compromise the delivery of services across the board,” he remarked.

There is apprehension among the public as the dreadful Ebola disease sweeps across the West African sub-region and other parts of Africa.

The disease has already struck countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria while Ghana has been fortunate with a few suspected cases reported had proved negative.

But while many people have been caught in the web of fear of contracting the disease, the admonition by health officials for people to avoid shaking hands and the speculation that the Ebola virus can be flushed out of one’s system by the chewing of cola nut have generated humour, even in the midst of a scary situation.

“Isn’t it now the best time to get a lot of water ready on seeing that our neighbour’s beard is on fire, just in case ours catches fire? The rumours must stop; we must take this seriously before it strikes because when it strikes, people will be in a panic mood, and when people are in a panic mood, it’s not good,” Prof Dodoo noted.

He wondered whether the media, both print and electronic, had been engaged such that there would not be a message on Ebola on their front pages and in prime-time news and programmes every day.

He said many of the stories published by the media so far had been, more or less, news articles, rather than information from the government.

“People want to hear: ‘These are the facts of Ebola; this is what you should do; this is how you should prepare’, and such other information which, thankfully, has already been developed by the WHO. So you have global experts making that information available.

“How has that information been disseminated across this country? Have we engaged our priests, Imams, religious leaders and chiefs? These are the people who talk to the population,” he said.

Prof Dodoo said the WHO recommended the need to wash hands but not the avoidance of handshake, as had been publicised.

He said Ebola could be contracted through person-to-person transmission, adding that the disease was not like flu that could be contracted by breathing air.

“When you get it, the incubation period is between two and 21 days. Within that time, you don’t infect anyone, but when the disease shoots, you can infect someone,” he explained.

He said anyone who prepared an Ebola-infected dead body for burial without using personal protective equipment could also contract the disease, adding that anyone who touched the carcass of an animal such as a bat or a chimpanzee could also be infected with the Ebola virus.

“How many people know that Ebola can be transmitted through semen? To the extent that if someone is treated of Ebola, he’s asked not to have sex for seven weeks thereafter because within those seven weeks, he can still transmit Ebola to his partner.

“We need comprehensive education, that is regular. A one-off news article is not public education on a health issue of such magnitude and importance. It must be done regularly, repeatedly, conscientiously and transparently,” he said.

Prof Dodoo wondered how well health workers and institutions in the country were prepared to deal with Ebola when it struck.

“Ghana is a big and very well-respected country with many experts. We must be seen to be doing much more; we must be seen to be putting every resource available towards this,” he said.

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