The National Executive Council (NEC) of the Health Sector Environmental Health Practitioners Association – Ghana (HeSEHPAG), wishes to call on Government as a matter of urgency to develop protocols and guidelines for safe and sanitary disposal (management) of personal protective equipment (PPEs) that will be used in all public and private basic, junior and senior high schools to prevent institutional and community spread of COVID- 19 disease when schools reopen.
The President of the Republic of Ghana, H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in his 21st address to the nation on measures taken by Government to ease restrictions on COVID-19 Pandemic on 3rd January 2021, announced that “all students from kindergarten to Junior High School will return to school on January 15, 2021 whilst Senior High School students in Form Two and Three will return to school on January 18, 2021”.
During this address the President indicated that, “Prior to their return to school, Government, through the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service, will ensure that all institutions, public and private, are fumigated and disinfected”. “He added that government through the Ministry of Education, will provide face masks, ‘Veronica’ buckets, hand sanitizers, liquid soap, rolls of tissue paper, and thermometer guns for the safe re- opening of the schools”.
The NEC commends the Government for taking these pragmatic steps to ensure the safe re-opening of schools in Ghana in the coming days. However, we are calling on Government to develop protocols and guidelines to ensure safe and sanitary disposal (management) of used PPEs such as used face masks, tissue papers and empty hand sanitizer bottles to curb the spread of COVID-19 among pupils and children in our public and private schools.
The NEC is concerned that, in the absence of strict protocols and guidelines for safe and sanitary disposal (management) of this infectious waste that will be generated in our schools, it is foreseeable, that pupils and children might pick, wear and try to play with the used face masks that will be littered on the school compounds as well as those disposed of indiscriminately on the paths/ways leading to the schools and in the communities. Our communities are likely to be at high risk of community spread of the COVID-19 disease, because when used face masks are disposed of indiscriminately, it may end up on the streets, in waterbodies, in drains etc. and if approved and tested protocols and guidelines are not put in place immediately before the reopening of schools, we are going to compromised our efforts to prevent the recording and spread of COVID-19 cases in our schools.
According to the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851), Section 3, all landfill sites, final disposal sites, refuse dumps and communal or commercial containers and household bins are classified as infected areas during public health emergencies/pandemics. Therefore, appropriate protocols and guidelines for safe and sanitary disposal of used PPEs must be developed by Government for strict compliance by all headmasters and mistresses across the country.
On a related development, the NEC wishes to appeal to Government and School authorities to provide adequate toilet facilities on their school compounds and strictly ensure handwashing practices among the pupils and children after using the toilet when schools reopen. We urge the Government, Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs), Ghana Health Service and Ghana Education Service to adequately resource and support the Registered Environmental Health Officers under the MMDAs and the Ghana Health Service to effectively enforce those requirements stipulated in Section 54 of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851) by conducting regularly inspections in the communities and schools to ensure strict adherence and compliance of the COVID-19 prescribed measures and protocols.
Furthermore, we are kindly calling for an effective collaboration and coordination among the Ghana Education Service, the Ghana Health Service and the Environmental Health and Sanitation Units (Environmental Health Officers) in the fight against the COVID-19 disease in our schools upon reopening as enshrined under Section 173 of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851) during public health emergency. However, the fumigation and disinfection of the schools against the COVID-19 disease pending reopening of the schools, as directed by the President, must be strictly supervised by Registered and Licensed Environmental Health Officers.
The NEC also wishes to state emphatically without fear of contradiction that, Environmental Health is a profession that requires formal training, and is regulated in Ghana under the Health Professions Regulatory Bodies Act, 2013 (ACT 857) i.e., the Allied Health Professions Council (AHPC), hence practitioners are required by law to be registered to practice. Therefore, we are calling on all institutions and facilities to ensure that only qualified and licensed Environmental Health Officers are employed to practice.
For correspondence, please do not hesitate to kindly contact the following Executives;
Ms. Doreen Danso (National President, 0244215670)
Ms. Indatu Muniru Danjuma (General Secretary, 0244881061)
Mr. Samuel Yaw Agyemang-Badu (National Vice President, 0244371065) Mr. Ebenezer Nsiah (National P.R.O, 0540771860)
MS. DOREEN DANSO NATIONAL PRESIDENT
Health Sector Environmental Health Practitioners