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HOW TO Guide
How To with health
WELCOME TO GHANA !
Overview of health care in Ghana
When it comes to medical services and standards of health care, Ghana is a very tricky situation to assess accurately given the huge variety of standards with regards to health care facilities. Unfortunately there is not one health care centre which has all the requirements for every area of health care. Instead, there are pockets of excellence at a variety of places. At the same time, the ignorance and arrogance, the incompetence and poor training of some doctors and nurses, even in the best clinics and hospitals, is a fact.
It is important to ensure that you have someone with some medical knowledge advising you to the reputable facilities as the risk of being treated inadequately in a local facility in this environment is very high.
In addition it is important to note that the level of health care available deteriorates rapidly once you leave the capital centers of Accra and Kumasi, Travelers and foreigners need to acknowledge the risks of being treated outside of those centers and rather get themselves back to Accra if and when they are severely unwell.
Recommended vaccinations before moving to Ghana
It is highly recommended that all travelers, visitors and foreigners to Ghana have all their essential vaccinations against the regular illnesses typical to developing countries. The risks faced - general hygiene, food-related hygiene, malaria exposure, eventual animal contact, etc.) are not to be disregarded, athough it varies depending on the type and location of work and the living conditions and location.
As all tropical countries and third world environments there are a host of different diseases – Ghana is no exception. Bear in mind however that there are diseases in all countries not just the developing world and often the increased rates of illness are not due to more disease per se but due to the lack of access to reputable health facilities instead.
With sensible precautions in the right areas health risks in Ghana can be minimized. Ensuring clean bottled drinking water at all times is a huge area where one can avoid contracting the whole host of water borne diseases found here.
Only eating food at reputable restaurants and not from vendors on the side of the road would also avoid exposure to food borne illnesses.
Malaria in Ghana
The following is not to unduly frighten readers but to create awareness of how dangerous malaria can be. According to the Ghana Ministry of Health, in 2009 budget, an amount of GHS 921 million was allocated to the health sector, out of which nearly ninety percent was spent on malaria alone. Available statistics indicate that about ninety percent of deaths due to malaria in the world occur in Africa. According to WHO, Ghana had an estimated 7.2 million cases of malaria in 2006, out of which 3.9 million occurred among children less than five years (the largest cause of under five deaths, at 26%).
Malaria is a disease that is transmitted via the bite of a mosquito that transmits a parasite known as Plasmodium into the blood stream. There are various types of the parasites but the most common type in Ghana is the Plasmodium Falciparum, transmitted by the female anopheles mosquito. Symptoms of malaria include: fever, chills, joint pains, sweating, headache, pallor, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, in some cases, flu-like symptoms and diarrhoea.
For prevention, everyone is encouraged to take precautions all year-long, especially during the rainy season, by taking into consideration the following measures:
Cholera - learn about the ongoing situation in the Health Alerts & Advisories page
Cholera is a severe and often fatal disease if not immediately treated and can be prevented by ensuring proper hygiene.
Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal illness caused by a bacteria; Vibrio cholera that can result in a profound and rapidly progressive dehydration and death. Humans become infected incidentally but, once infected we act as vehicles for spread. Ingestion of water and food contaminated by infected human feces is the common means of acquiring the disease.
The main symptoms are profuse painless watery diarrhea and vomiting of clear fluid. These symptoms usually start suddenly, one to five days after ingestion of the bacteria. The diarrhoea is frequently described as "rice water" in nature and may have a fishy odor or somewhat sweet inoffensive odor. An untreated person with cholera may produce 10-20 liters of diarrhea a day with fatal results. If the severe diarrhea and vomiting are not aggressively treated it can, within hours, result in life-threatening dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Cholera is diagnosed by identifying the bacteria in stool. The mainstay of treatment is rapid replacement of fluids and electrolytes. Antibiotics are also given to shorten the course and duration of the symptoms but people will recover without them if they are adequately rehydrated.
Outbreaks of Cholera are most common in areas described in Ghana as Zonga which basically means slum areas. Expatriates are therefore unlikely to be in such an area.
Report to your doctor immediately if you have vomiting and diarrhea.
Buying Reputable Medications
Most medications can be fairly easily found in Ghana except for some specific medications, or new medications on the market or those which are extremely expensive. Due to the heat and humidity it is essential to always buy your medications from a reputable source where you can be sure that the cold chain and storage temperature of the medications is well respected.
In addition be aware that in this environment there are plenty of fake medications and cheap brands which have flooded the market here and they may not be recommended.
Avoiding Self Medicating
Unfortunately in Ghana almost all medications can be purchased easily over the counter without a prescription even those which are strictly only under doctors’ orders only in most other countries. This makes for self diagnoses and self treatment very common and also very risky. We would like to warn families that whilst in most countries fevers can easily be managed and self treated that in this environment it is a huge risk to try and self diagnose and treat and self treatment already begun can also make for difficult diagnostics once you reach a doctor as medications can mask and suppress normal symptoms and clinical presentations.
People should be encouraged to avoid self treatment for malaria or other disease without a reliable diagnosis being made through a full blood counts. Increased abuse by individuals with antibiotics and malaria treatment increase drug resistance both individually and on a community level.
Dangerous roads and dangerous driving
Ghana has a significantly high incidence of road traffic accidents. This is the results of a disastrous combination of unmaintained vehicles, poor driving, and bad roads. In addition villages are located close to major roadsides making for additional hazards of people and animals crossing roads.
In order to minimize risks on the roads in this region people are asked to avoid driving outside of the major cities at night, to practice defensive driving skills at all times and to ensure their vehicles are always well maintained.
The regular seasonal rains start in June (and last till October), bringing the relief of coolness but along with that always come the additional risk of unwanted puddles and stagnant water bodies to increase the breeding grounds for malaria mosquitoes.
We would like to take this opportunity to remind people of the risk of malaria and that whilst the majority of early diagnosed cases of malaria are easily treated and resolved that people still die each day in Africa from complicated or cerebral malaria.
We remind people especially pregnant mothers and small children not to place themselves at any additional risks by not sleeping under mosquito nets. We emphasize that even though you live in a quality house with nets on windows and air-conditioning, mosquitoes can be are tiny: if you can get in and out your house on a daily basis so can they.
The Malaria chapter above includes advice on prevention. Be sure to be well aware of all the side effects of malaria preventative medications should you wish to go this route of prevention.
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