Upper East Unveils GIFTS Programme
The Upper East Region on Wednesday launched the Girls' Iron-Folate Tablet Supplementation (GIFTS) programme for in-school and out of school menstruating adolescent girls to prevent anaemia.
The programme was implemented in four regions of the country including; the Upper East Region by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) with support from the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organisation (WHO), Canada, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), KOICA and the Ghana Education Service (GES).
The intervention which is aimed at preventing anaemia by 20 percent in women of childbearing age, and reducing anaemia among adolescents through weekly iron and folic acid supplementation, started in October 2016, and is expected to end in 2019.
Speaking on the theme: 'Investing in Girls' Health for Improved Learning Ability and Development', Dr Winfred Ofosu, the Upper East Regional Director of Health Services, said the decision to introduce the programme was informed by the high level of anaemia cases among adolescent girls which was further worsened by menstruation every month.
Dr Ofosu, who cited a 2014 Health Demographic Survey report, said anaemia among women in the region was 39.6 per cent although other factors aside lack of iron-folate such as poor diet, intestinal worms, malaria, haemoglobinopathies (sickle cell anaemia), lack of vitamin A and B12 contributed to anaemia in the population.
He noted that the effect of anaemia which included; learning problems, low physical activity among others, in school children was immense, and emphasized that it was not limited to only adolescent girls, but also affected boys.
He said 'the introduction of the intervention is to prepare our would-be mothers to have adequate blood levels before motherhood.', and added that hemorrhage was the major cause of maternal deaths, and indicated that the ability to survive it depended very much on the blood level in women.
According to the Director, 'those who have little blood die after small blood loss while those who have sufficient blood survive even after heavy bleeding.
Anaemia also has serious effects on the unborn baby such as foetal anaemia, low birth weight, preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction and prenatal mortality.'
He insisted that aside tablets, individuals including boys needed to eat nutritious food to have adequate blood, and was quick to add that there was urgent need to address other socio-cultural factors such as grand multi-parity, low socio- economic status, poor birth spacing and cultural factors including; taboos prohibiting pregnant women from consuming iron rich foods such as meat and egg.
He disclosed that the programme would involve a weekly distribution of Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) supplements to all adolescents aged 10 to 19 years both in school and out of school on every Wednesday known as 'GIFTS Wednesday' across all public Junior and Senior High Schools, Technical, Vocational Education and Training Institutions in the region.
To this end, Dr Ofosu said selected teachers had been trained across the targeted schools to superintend over the weekly distribution of the supplement to adolescents by Direct Observation Treatment (DOT).
The Director expressed worry that there were wild allegations and misconceptions that the medicines were family planning medications given in an attempt to stop women from childbearing.
Mr Rockson Ayine Bukari, the Upper East Regional Minister, who launched the programme, said investing in the health of adolescent girls for improved learning ability was the surest way to guarantee the future of the nation.
He said females affected society greatly and could not be left to suffer this natural order, hence the need to find a way to replenish the blood lost.