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28.01.2004 Regional News

Infectious diseases are the highest causes of mortality - Professor

By GNA
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Akosa

Accra, Jan 28, GNA - Infectious and preventable diseases constitute the highest burden of disease and mortality in Ghana, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosah, Director General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) said on Wednesday.

He said adolescents and children were the most vulnerable to infectious diseases, and malaria was still critical among the infectious diseases, constituting over 40 per cent of the disease burden.

Tuberculosis and pneumonia are among the most important causes of hospital visits, while cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death among adults.

Professor Akosa was speaking at a press briefing in Accra on the performance of the GHS, which was launched a year ago, and to usher in activities for the first anniversary celebrations of the Service. The celebration, on the theme: "Eat Well, Stay Healthy and Live Longer", would be held at the district level from February 2 to February 8; at the regional level from February 9 to February 15 and March 8 to March 14 at the national level.

The media would be used to highlight negative effects of bad eating habits and associated dangers. The people would be educated on the need for regular physical activity to avoid contracting non-communicable diseases.

The GHS established by an Act of Parliament, in 1996, with focus on the provision of quality primary and secondary health care delivery was launched on February 4 2003. It excludes Teaching Hospitals. Its objectives are to implement approved national policies for health delivery, increase access to good quality health services and manage prudently resources available for the provision of health services.

Professor Akosa said Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) had also been on the increase and was recognised as a public health problem. The Director General, who is also a pathologist, said the health status of Ghanaians showed that the average life expectancy is about 58 years and infant morbidity rate had dropped to 56.7 per cent from 83.8 in 1998.

However, he said the gains in health delivery were in danger of being wiped out by the HIV/AIDS problem, unless serious measures were taken to effect changes in lifestyles.

On HIV/AIDS, Professor Akosa said sentinel survey data showed that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate had increased from 3.4 per cent in 2001 to four per cent in 2002, adding that there was an estimated 353,000 Ghanaians living with the virus.

He said the National AIDS Control Programme projects the average national prevalence rate to increase to 6.4 by 2004, if current trends continued and efforts were not doubled to bring the disease under control.

It is estimated that about 160,000 children have been orphaned as a result the disease and stigmatisation remains a major problem. Professor Akosa said available data showed that only 15.4 per cent of the orphaned children had received counselling.

He said the disease was putting strain on the nation's already stretched health resources, adding that the additional hospital bed occupancy due to HIV related estimated at about 33 per cent in 2001 was expected to reach approximately 45 per cent this year.

Professor Akosa said there was still a mass migration of health workers in an unprecedented manner in spite of incentive packages that were introduced last year.

"Indeed, the number of health workers reduced by nearly 12 per cent. There is also a severe shortage of teaching staff, facilities and equipment to train new health professionals", Prof. Akosa said. He said while there was a good intent to deal with the issue, the Government for several reasons had not been able to deal with the issues as quickly as possible.

The Director General said it was not feasible to increase compensation to retain health professionals in the Service, but the Service managed to continue with key strategies related to the expansion of services to underserved areas through the Community Based Health Planning and Services Approach.

Under the programme, the health worker lives with the community members and facilitates their health needs at the grassroots level. "We believe in the face of dwindling human resource this approach holds real promise in bringing health care delivery to underserved areas. Again there is a lot more work to be done in this direction", Prof Akosa said.

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