The quick spread of epidemics in Africa is sometimes a result of some attitudes deeply embedded in culture.
Mr. Augustine Sagoe, a bio-medical scientist, and leader of a team of Ghanaian workers who travelled to Sierra Leon to help combat the Ebola Virus Disease, told the Ghana News Agency, after their return to Ghana, at the end of their mission.
“Our communal attitude here puts us at great risk, when it comes to the spread of diseases,”he stressed.
Mr Sagoe’s team formed half of a 42 member-team of Ghanaian health workers, who travelled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to help in the fight Ebola.
All the 42 members of the team arrived in Ghana a week ago, upon the completion of their duties in the two countries.
Mr. Sagoe said eating together from the same bowl, “a typical African practice,” frequent handshakes, and the prolonged stay of dead bodies in morgues, were some typical areas of great risk.
“In boarding schools, for example, a number of students would eat from the same bowl as an indication of comradeship, but that is a quick means of disease spread,” he said.
The bio-medical scientist said if a person died of a highly contagious disease, for example, it was much safer to bury that person almost immediately explaining, “The longer the body is exposed to the living or even other dead bodies which would be handled by living people, the higher the risk of that disease being spread.”
“Unfortunately, a dead body in Africa could sometimes be in the morgue for several months, because of some cultural reason,” he said.
Mr. Sagoe said quite often, there was no idea what might have been the cause of a death and what risk was being taken by even handling a dead body.
He said in schools, for example, there was a culture of the exchange of jerseys during a football match, which he described as a high risk behavior, with respect to the outbreaks of epidemics.
“One for example needs to be exposed to just a minute quantity of infected blood to have hepatitis B,” he said.
Mr. Sagoe said considering the high cost of disease outbreaks, preventive measures were worth any effort.
“Sierra Leone, for example, lost a large number of medical staff as a result of Ebola, and now has to deal with a disturbingly limited number of qualified medical staff,” he stated. “They only have 13 doctors remaining after 97 died during the outbreak,” said Mr. Sagoe.
The bio-medical scientist said many other medical staff, such as nurses, also got killed.
He said it was highly important for the State to come up with laws that ensured that no practice posed a threat of a disease outbreak, even if it had deep cultural roots.
“There is also a great need for people, especially those in rural communities, to be educated on modifying some of their cultural practices in order to curb disease outbreaks.
The 42 member team spent three months in the two countries they visited.
Before arriving in Ghana, they were quarantined for 21 days in Ivory Coast.
The team members are to take a leave of one month each before resuming work at their respective organisations.