The Coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effects are the battles that almost all nations and territories are fighting without rising against each other in arms.
The Regional Executive Committee of the Volta and Oti Regions Chapter of the Ghana Environmental Health Officers Association (GEHOA) has observed with grave concern Ghana’s rising number of confirmed cases of the COVID 19 despite strategies being adopted at the national and local levels.
We believe that by 15th of April 2020 we would no longer require a forecast to appreciate the extent of work we must embrace until the battle is over.
The Volta Regional Coordinating Council has on 30 March 2020 released a directive “following discussions and deliberations with the Regional Security Council and the Regional Public Health Emergency Management Committee” in expected anticipation of the “influx of travellers to the Volta” and Oti regions.
In as much as we think that the Minister largely took the right step by providing some instructions in preventing any incidence of the COVID-19 in the Volta region, we have some reservations with clauses “a” and “f” in the said directive, which we observe has had some negative effects on our membership.
The clauses refer thus:
a. All M/DCEs should engage the appropriate stakeholders i.e. the District Directors of Health Services and the Information Services Department to intensify education on COVID-19 with special emphasis on the need to self-quarantine persons who are coming from affected areas.
f. The Health Service is to further boost the readiness of all facilities by supplying all Districts with more Personal Protective Equipment in appreciable quantities for the use of frontline staff before the end of day today.
We observe that the “a” specifically mentioned some categories of personnel, and unfortunately appear to indicate only those, as “the appropriate stakeholders” involved in education on the COVID-19.
We have observed that without any prejudice to any of the listed categories of personnel, the absence of the Environmental Health Officers in such a strategic directive has indeed demoralized a section of our membership and made them feel unrecognized.
Prior to the hospitalization and or quarantine of COVID-19 victims, the Environmental Health Officers, being essential service providers, are the first frontliners in the health workforce who as part of their line of duty, are exposed to the asymptomatic but highly infectious cold fangs of this Virus as they continue to conduct home surveillance as part of their house-to-house inspection activities, facilitating surface disinfection and promoting effective handwashing, respiratory and general hygiene, construction of effective handwashing facilities such as tippy-taps, veronica buckets and other innovative related tools.
We are aware the work of the Environmental Health Practitioner is not well understood and therefore not appreciated by most people, despite their rhetoric tout of “Prevention is better than cure”. The loud silence on the significant roles the Environmental Health Officers are playing or should continue to play in that communique is rather unfortunate, knowing the Hon. Minister of the Volta Region is a widely learned Medical Doctor, Public Health Specialist, and a statesman regardless of the strong calibre of technical officers he is surrounded with.
At a time when the President is calling for more hands and has intentionally mentioned all essential services to remain at post, it should not appear as if we are oblivious of the existence and active involvement of Environmental Health Officers in the assemblies.
The Hon. Minister’s apparent instruction (in “f”) to the health service alone to “further boost readiness...” in our candid opinion has had negative repercussions. As of now, no personal protective equipment or clothing has been supplied to Environmental Health Officers who are still at work providing essential services.
A number of training programs were conducted to ensure personnel are updated with current information in the MMDAs, unfortunately, the Environmental Health Officers were sidelined in most of these trainings, leaving them further vulnerable.
It is not our expectation that our leaders would wait until there is a death case and or other related Environmental Health needs before they will remember the Environmental Health Officer who is expected to be playing a crucial role in relation to general Water,
Sanitation and Hygiene as well as ensuring sanitary/safe/appropriate disposal of such unfortunate victims.
Let’s also remember that the Environmental Health Officers are the gazetted public health officers required to ensure compliance to all health and its related regulations and for that matter be in readiness for the prosecution of recalcitrant persons.
We wish to use this opportunity to remind and strengthen all our members that our roles are preventive, and this is the time it is most needed. Despite the current challenges, we should not faint, we should not be discouraged. Let us continue to make efforts to break the chain of infection and/or transmission through our health and hygiene promotion and education interventions.
Let’s continue to coordinate, facilitate, monitor and ensure health/hygiene standards compliance for all (private and public) disinfection procedures especially at public places and homes of confirmed cases; let’s continue to ensure compliance to the hygiene and sanitation protocols at all levels; let’s continue to ensure all stores, shopping malls, restaurants, night clubs, eateries, supermarket, hotels as well as all other public places have their respective appropriate handwashing facilities among others. In doing this, let us all be cautious of our safety (first) by strictly complying with all Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures.
We are not by this letter requesting the Hon. Minister to rewrite the communique, but we are respectfully requesting the Hon. Minister and all relevant stakeholders to ensure the timely involvement of the Environmental Health Officers in Needs Assessment, Training, Implementation, monitoring and evaluation in all relevant public health interventions.
The Central Government and Assemblies should provide resources to enhance hygiene at all markets in the Volta and Oti regions. The VRCC and/or MMDAs should consider closing market days in bigger communities to limit the convergence of people. Other day markets (non-market days) may, however, continue in order to ensure food security.
The VRCC and ORCC should facilitate the set up of at least two mass testing centres in each of the two regions as soon as possible. This will engender more robust testing and for that matter better information for appropriate decision making.
We wish to urge the government to ensure that adequate Personnel Protective Clothing and Equipment, risk allowances and the necessary logistics are provided to the Environmental Health and Sanitation Units of the assemblies for a successful intervention to nip the COVID-19.
VOLTA & OTI