By Gifty Arthur
Regardless of the alarming rate of cholera cases and the efforts by stakeholders to bring the menace under control, some Ghanaians, especially food vendors in the Greater Accra Region, are still adamant about the repercussion of their actions and inaction.
Since the outbreak some three months ago, statistics show that close to hundred deaths have been recorded, while more than ten thousand patients have visited various clinics and hospitals, nationwide for treatment.
A little over a week ago, the President, John Dramani Mahama, was forced to join the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and the people of James Town, to clean their environs to improve the unhygienic conditions in the metropolis.
But the Deputy General Secretary of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), Dr Justice Yankson, has said that the country was recording more cholera cases, because Ghanaians have refused to observe good hygienic practices recommended by stakeholders.
“We failed simply because we did not heed to the warning signs that were given. The Ghana Medical Association [GMA] sounded the the alarm bells, the Regional Directorate of Health gave the alarm bells, somehow we went to sleep, we never found it expedient to implement measures and now we find ourselves in this situation,” he said.
Last Friday, the Food Safety Department of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), as part of its outdoor campaign to sensitize the public about cleanliness and the fight against the deadly cholera disease, paid a working visit to the Madina Lorry Station, where it was evident that both food vendors and consumers, were not bothered about the cholera outbreak.
The women had been given spaces in the middle of the Lorry Station by the authorities to sell food to travelers, who board vehicles to various places in and outside Accra. However, on Friday morning, when the FDA team and the media visited the Station, they were disappointed at the environment in which the women did brisk business.
The women, cooked and sold their food in an environment which can bluntly be described as dirty.
The vendors left most of the food open, while dust and houseflies, moved in and out of the cooked food, including boiled rice, Banku, Waakye, Boiled Yam, Plantain, Beans and many others. Even the water, which was being used for hand washing and drank occasionally, was uncovered.
Characteristics of them, immediately they saw the cameras, they hurriedly made effort to cover the food, suggesting that they knew what was right. While making some effort to justify their actions at a point in time, the vendors complained about their inability to access clean water from the Ghana Water Company, and asked the state water provider to come to their aid.
Though the women admitted that the FDA, had been there and educated them on the dangers of houseflies and hygiene in general, they could not give any reason, why the environment was unkempt, when the media questioned them why they sold food under such unhygienic condition.
The Principal Regulatory Officer at the FDA, Kofi Essel, who was not enthused about the situation, said the time has come for both sellers and buyers to be concern about what they sell and consume.
According to Mr. Essel, though they have the mandate to arrest food vendors, who go contrary to acceptable practices, they would rather intensify their outreach and awareness programmes.
“I believe the observation we have made here at the lorry station, tells all of us about the status of food vending activities probably… across the country and other places and all that. I don’t need to reiterate the fact that it is not in the best of shape”, Mr. Essel said.
He went on, “most of you probably, picked [saw] the vendors sweeping the areas where they sell their food immediately they saw the cameras. This should not be prompted by the cameras; this should be part of their daily life style”.
According to the FDA official, “as food vendors, we expected them to do these things; it tells those of us involved in public education that we need to intensify our public education campaign”.
He insisted that, “what we are hammering on now in the [wake] of the cholera outbreak has to do with consumers becoming very self compliant, retailers becoming self compliant, food vendors becoming self compliant”.
Consumers, he said, “have a role to play and then the food vendors. Let everyone do the little that we can do as far as the safety of the food is concerned”.
“Wash your hands under running water with soap before you eat. If you are a food vendor, make sure you are using the right material to cook. Make sure you cook your food thoroughly, keep your food under the right temperature”, he said.
Earlier, the team visited Ayi Mensa, a community in the Madina District, where some traditional caterers assembled by the Traditional Caterers Association (TCA), were educated on ways to prevent the deadly cholera disease from spreading further.
They were supported by the Madina District Assembly. The caterers were presented with certificates after the one-day training, which was patronized by some men in the area.
They were advised to pass on what they learnt unto others, who were not lucky to have directly benefited from the training.