Epidemic fears as several die in northern Ghana

By Lawrence Quartey

Posted on February 23, 2012 11:33

An outbreak of cerebro-spinal meningitis has, in the past two months, claimed several lives in the impoverished northern part of Ghana.

An outbreak of cerebro-spinal meningitis has, in the past two months, claimed several lives in the impoverished northern part of Ghana.

The three regions in the north – Upper West, Upper East and Northern regions, have so far recorded 17, 14, and 10 deaths, respectively, with over 230 total reported cases of cerebro-spinal meningitis (CSM) since January this year, data gathered has shown.

Whereas in Upper East, health experts believe the disease had assumed epidemic stage, which calls for urgent attention to arrest the situation before it escalates further, those in Upper West and Northern say the situation is under control.

CSM, experts say, is an inflammation of the membranes of both the brain and spinal cord, commonly caused by bacteria or viral infection. Symptoms of CSM include severe fever, intense headache, stiffness of the neck, body weakness and joint pains, breathing difficulty, convulsion, diarrhoea and restlessness in children.

Traditional leaders in affected communities have been urged to reduce the number of social gatherings including funerals in order to check the epidemic’s spread.

The Upper East Regional Epidemic Committee held an emergency meeting on Wednesday in Bolgatanga, where an official from the Ghana Health Service advised the public against administering drugs on the treatment of CSM and said they should rather report to the nearest health facility anytime signs of the disease occurred.

Thomas Abachia said effective measures had been put in place to contain the situation adding that “A” and “C” vaccines for CSM have been deployed to the various districts to better manage the situation.

Currently Ghana has vaccines for types A and C, the two most common strains in the West African country.

James Akpabli, Deputy Upper East Regional Health Director in charge of Public Health indicated the disease could now be regarded as an epidemic, adding that there was urgent need to get more vaccines and drugs to treat the CSM W135 strain. CSM, he noted, is life threatening and early treatment was important to saving lives.

Meanwhile, in the Northern Region, where 54 cases had been reported, health officials say the situation there could not be described as an outbreak, since the cases recorded fall below the alert threshold of each district, adding that no strange strain of the disease has so far been detected.

The Regional Surveillance Officer, Edward Abu noted that every district in the region had its alert threshold and none of them had so far reached that alert threshold, “not to mention reaching an epidemic status”.

He also said all the districts had their epidemic management teams, adding that since last year the teams had put in place adequate preparations control the spread of diseases such as CSM and tuberculosis.

At the Upper West Region, health authorities say they have brought the situation under control through the intensification of their sensitisation on the disease.

Meanwhile, temperatures in the north continue to rise with current levels ranging between 40 and 44 degrees Celsius.

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