Stop toying with the lives of our babies and infants!
Historically, Ghana has had the full range of childhood diseases that are endemic to a sub-Saharan country. There are six target diseases of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). These are measles, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and tuberculosis. In recent times, hepatitis B and pneumonia have been added to the list of childhood killer diseases in Ghana.
And as the medical experts will put it, pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death among children under five years old, killing approximately 700,000 children a year in many parts of the world. A child dies from pneumonia every minute, even though the disease is entirely preventable and can be managed early with antibiotics.
From eight weeks of age, your child needs to be offered routine vaccines to protect him or her against the most common infectious diseases, such as polio, whooping cough, measles, tetanus, and hepatitis B, among others. Other vaccines, which include BCG, are offered to babies who are considered to be at high risk of catching certain diseases. This will protect them against tuberculosis, the flu, and hepatitis B.
For my readers and other patrons who may not be familiar with the six childhood killer diseases, their causes, and symptoms, I will like to take them down memory lane with some of these diseases from the research I have conducted as a journalist to show them how deadly they can be to children and infants so that when people are toying with their lives, they can easily speak out.
Measles is a highly infectious disease and spreads when someone with the disease sneezes or coughs. It starts like a bad cold, with a rash appearing after three days. The disease can lead to ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, and convulsions (seizures or fits). In rare cases, the disease can cause inflammation of the brain. Diphtheria is a bacterial infection of the chest and throat. It spreads when someone with the disease sneezes or coughs. The symptoms include a thick, white coating on the throat and breathing difficulties. A severe case can cause damage to the heart and nervous system or even be fatal.
Tetanus, sometimes called lockjaw tetanus, can cause painful muscle spasms and stiffness. The disease can be fatal if not treated. The bacteria that causes tetanus is found in soil and animal manure and can enter the body through a cut, wound, or burn. Tetanus can also get into the body through animal bites, body piercings, and tattoos. Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease. It spread through coughing and sneezing. It starts like a cold, but the coughing spasms with a distinctive “whoop” become severe. Babies and young children are most at risk of developing complications such as pneumonia, vomiting, dehydration, weight loss, and, rarely, brain damage and subsequent death.
Although the majority of people who catch polio are able to fight it off without noticing any symptoms, more serious complications can happen. In about one per cent of cases, the virus attacks the nerve tissue in the brain and the spinal cord, which can cause temporary and sometimes permanent paralysis. Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by hepatitis viruses that can lead to serious liver disease in later life. It can be caught from infected blood and passed from mother to baby at birth. People can carry the virus in their blood without being aware of it.
Meningococcal bacteria are the cause of meningitis and blood poisoning (septicaemia). The bacteria have several strains, and this vaccination is against most B strains. Meningitis is a serious illness that can cause long-term damage to the brain and nervous system and even be fatal. Flu is another disease cause by infectious virus and can be treated with antibiotics. Children are more likely to have the flu during the winter season. The symptoms are similar to a cold but also include a fever, aching muscles and joints, a dry cough, a runny nose, diarrhea, and vomiting.
SIDE EFFECTS OF VACCINES
All medicines, including immunisation, can cause some mild side effects, even the safest ones. It may help to know what to expect, just in case your child does experience side effects.
The issue that has brought about this piece of education was the recent report in the Daily Graphic over the widespread shortage of vaccines used for the routine immunisation of babies from birth to 18 months, including those for polio, hepatitis B, measles, and tuberculosis.
REASONS FOR SHORTAGE
The Ghana Health Service (GHS) attributed the shortage to the depreciation of the cedi vis-à-vis the importation of vaccines abroad and assured the general public that efforts were underway to resolve the problem within weeks. However, the Pediatric Society of Ghana (PSG) has warned that the childhood diseases could quickly spread if the vaccines are not made available in good time.
It is worthy of note that for about six months now, nursing mothers have been complaining of the shortage of vaccines meant for babies from birth to at least 18 months. The situation became worse in February this year after major health facilities in 10 out of the 16 administrative regions of Ghana, kept turning nursing mothers away due to the erratic supply of vaccines. Hear one of these nursing mothers speak to the Voice of America (VOA) in an interview: “My baby girl missed one of the key vaccines last month, and the situation has not changed after combing three health centers on Monday. It has been frustrating moving from one hospital to another”.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF), timely vaccination of children has been proven as a method for saving lives from vaccine-preventable diseases. It can also help attain some targets, like UN Sustainable Development Goal 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. It noted that the UNICEF Ghana office had seen a significant fall in deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, since 2003, there have been no deaths caused by measles, while in 2011, Ghana was certified as having attained elimination status for maternal and neonatal tetanus.
PAEDIATRIC SOCIETY OF GHANA
Meanwhile, Dr. Agyeiwaa Bomedie, a member of the Paediatric Society of Ghana, has urged the government to act now in order not to erode the gains made so far. “It’s the first time I am hearing of such widespread shortages. We do have shortages from time to time; however, those are in very limited circumstances. The problem this time is that it has gone on for several months. This should actually be a thing of the past. The government should be encouraged to do what we call ring-fenced funding so that budgetary allocations for vaccines are actually protected no matter what other dire or pressing needs the country has; the children should be secured in that light,” she pointed out.
Health Minister Before Parliament
Realizing the seriousness of the shortage of these childhood vaccines and how it is affecting babies and infants, who are the most vulnerable in the country, Parliament recently summoned the Health Minister, Kwaku Manu-Agyeman, to appear before the House to answer questions concerning the shortage and how best his ministry and, for that matter, the government are doing to remedy the situation. In his reaction, the minister allayed the fears of Ghanaians and promised that the vaccines would start arriving in a few weeks, stressing that “no child has died yet as a result of the shortage.” Indeed, the country has received a first shipment of the vaccines, which we are told are being distributed throughout the country.
POOR SHOW BY GOVERNMENT
Honestly, the government has not done well with the handling of this shortage of childhood vaccines in the country. How can we sit down and allow the vaccines to finish completely before taking steps to tackle the situation? We were told that the country has been in debt to its suppliers since 2022, and we should have settled this debt in order to plan ahead.
It was time our leaders placed the interests of the people above their personal interests and stopped investing money in winning elections because it was the people who put them in positions of trust. We are interested in spending money to issue voter’s and national identity cards, but we do not want to provide the needed funds to procure childhood vaccines. What kind of behaviour is this?
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By Chales Neequaye