The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) in collaboration with district assemblies and municipalities, have embarked on a “vigorous public education” to get people to appreciate the importance of adapting best practices in food handling and consumption to help fight the cholera pandemic.
The FDA’s Head of Food Safety Management Department, Maria Aba Lovelace-Johnson, expressed worry over the repeated Cholera outbreaks and said one of Ghana’s biggest problem is “attitudinal”, warning people against buying food and drinking water from unhygienic places.
She told The Herald that Cholera which keeps killing unsuspecting members of the public, especially during the raining season could be prevented if the public heeds to common hygienic practices.
Many people have argued that the FDA, has not been seen in the forefront of the fight against the Cholera pandemic this year. They mentioned in particular some years ago, when the FDA would release the list of certified mineral water; both sachet and bottled in the dailies, thus creating awareness on safe drinking water.
The FDA, has also in the past clamped down heavily on food vendors, who cook food or sell food in unhygienic places. But the food and drugs regulator, is these days seen as layback as people die needlessly from contaminated consumables.
However, the authority said, the epidemic would have gotten worse but for its awareness creation programme, making the public, especially food vendors, to understand that improper handling of food can bring about the deadly Cholera, which has affected thousands nationwide and claimed over fifty lives, this year alone.
According to reports, fishing communities in Accra, are the hardest hit areas in the country, and hospitals and clinics located in these areas are finding it difficult to cope with the number of Cholera cases.
Hospitals located in these areas are having difficulty admitting patients.
The Food Safety Management Department head, told this paper that “hands need to be washed with running water” adding, “the Food and Drugs Authority, has embarked on a vigorous public education. We believe that if the consumer knows what is right, he will change his attitude”.
Ms. Lovelace-Johnson, was hopeful that consumers “wouldn’t buy food from a vender, who has houseflies by the food….because “once you have houseflies, then you know that these are vectors of vibro-cholera, because they are going to bring faeces into your food”.
Despite the huge numbers affected, she argues that but for the FDA’s awareness creation in years past, the epidemic will have been worse with higher fatality rate.
Said continued that, “hitherto food vendors used to expose their fishes and the fried yam, but now they cover them”.
This, she explained was because “we have taught a lot of them, especially the food vendors to protect their food. They now understand and they do a lot of protection now, they now have glass cases to keep their food safe”.
She disclosed that the FDA Greater Accra Regional team is presently in Tema educating market women, food vendors and the public, telling them that “in the area of cholera prevention, the number one thing, is hand washing”.
To her, although the FDA’s collaboration with the various assemblies, like the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) is yielding results, the people at this crucial time, need to take their health serious by ensuring that whatever they consume both at home and outside, is properly handled.
The officer said, “When we have an outbreak of cholera, it means people are eating their faeces or drinking contaminated water, especially with the onset of rain”.
She underscored the need for the public to always wash their hands with soap and running water, most importantly before eating and after attending to nature’s call.
She said, the practice where most people avoid the use of soap before eating, but find it necessary to wash their hands with soap after eating was a “bad practice”.
She said “hand washing should be a regular practice”, explaining that as a culture, most Ghanaians greet by shaking hands and so it was crucial for people to adapt best practices.
Ms. Lovelace-Johnson observed that “you know people do a lot of defecation anywhere, anyhow, because we have some homes in this country that don’t even have toilet facilities and they do not have public toilet anywhere, so sometimes they just do it in black rubber bags, like carrier bag and then dump them somewhere”.
She explained that “around this time too, we have the houseflies all over the place, these flies settle on the faeces and they settle on your food and when they pick some of these faeces with their wings and legs, when they get to your food, they infest it with the Vibro-Cholera germ; that is the germ that causes cholera and as a result you get the cholera”.
Throwing more light on their regular public health education, Ms Lovelace-Johnson said that her teams are spread nationwide and moving from one place to the other, including schools and markets to inculcate in the public the habit of keeping their environments clean.
Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Greater Accra Region officers, educate the traders adding, in situations where they need to refer recalcitrant citizens to authorities for punishment, they do so without hesitation.
She cited an instance in the Central Business of Accra where a food vendor was relocated because of the unhygienic nature of the environment in which she was selling.
Ms Lovelace-Johnson, advised against buying food from restaurants and hotels without the FDA’s “Food Hygiene Permit”, and disclosed that as a practice; occasionally the Food Surveillance Unit of the FDA goes round monitoring the compliance of this directive in hotel and restaurant.
The FDA official regretted the actions of a section of the public, who sometimes show disrespect and indifference towards effort to correct wrongs or react harshly to authorities who try to enforce laws to keep them safe.