Story by Carlos Afanou

The Environmental Health Officers Alliance-Ghana (EHOA-GH) wish to express their sincere gratefulness to the government for the concrete steps taken to stem the tide of this pandemic, COVID-19. EHOA-GH is a Registered Professional Association for Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) working under the Local Government Service (LGS) and are regulated by the Allied Health Professions Council in accordance with the Health Professions Regulatory Bodies Act, 2013 (Act 857).

According to them, at the onset of the pandemic their members communicated to them their observations, concerns and recommendations on how to effectively deal with the pandemic. It is their fervent hope that the implementation of these measures will go a long way to place our dear country to gain an upper hand in the fight against this pandemic.

The following guidelines were given at a press conference;

a) In the light of COVID-19 pandemic, all household waste is classified as suspected infectious waste. Consequently all landfill sites, final disposal sites, refuse dumps, refuse trucks, “borla” tricycles and taxis, communal containers and household bins must be classified as infected areas under  Section 3 of the Public Health Act, 2012 ( Act 851).

b) Thus all operators or workers of waste management services in both private and public sectors must wear personal protective equipment (PPEs) while performing their duties. The MMDAs must therefore support the Environmental Health and Sanitation Units to effectively enforce these requirement as stipulated in Section 54 of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851).

c) All communal refuse containers and household bins which are lifted by vehicles from the communities must be covered with water-resistant blankets (Tapoli) before they are transported to the final disposal or landfill sites. Also, these vehicles must be disinfected after disposing off their waste if they passed through these suspected infectious wastes. In other words the buckets of tricycles, communal containers and the trucks must be disinfected before returning from the site back to town.

d) Public Health in Ghana will be greatly enhanced if steps are taken to increase the  collaboration among key stakeholders as outlined in Section 173 of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851).

They disclosed that Environmental Health Officers across the country have been unduly exposed to risk in the performance of their duties everyday relative to COVID-19 pandemic before, during and after the lock down and still working as they were exempted to work ( Sanitary Services) without any Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and other resources in their various jurisdiction in the communities.

Their members are still at post working more than the maximum of eight (8) hours a day or forty (40) hours a week and most times even work on Saturdays and Sundays without any form of shift system and/or additional hour allowances.

They lamented that, in recent times, when there are reports of unknown deaths, Environmental Health Officers were called to take lead role to ensure the sanitary removal of such dead bodies for subsequent action. A few weeks ago, their members in some MMDAs were forced to carry and disinfect a suspected decomposing female dead body found in an uncompleted buildings and other public places without the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) contrary to Section 118 of the Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651).

To add to the above, the Ghana Health Service’s Training of Trainers on COVID-19 turned down all Environmental Health Officers from their workshops when such trainings were being organized at the Regional Levels for Metropolitan, Municipal and District Health Officers nationwide. (It is only central and Ashanti regions that some of their members were part of this trainings). But when case mortality of COVID-19 are recorded, they are quick to call for the services of the Environmental Health Officers. Why must this happen?

They are suggesting to Government that the National Response Team on COVID-19 pandemic must include Registered Environmental Health Officer(s) who shall advise His Excellency the President on Environmental Health Issues since the fight against COVID-19 is all about observing hygiene protocols. As the famous adage goes, “prevention is better than cure”, it is incumbent on the Government to take a critical consideration of involving the Environmental Health Officers towards preventing the continuous spread of this pandemic. When priority is given to prevention, the burden on curative (health facilities) will be drastically reduced to ease pressure on their colleagues working in these facilities.

Again, observations have been made and same communicated by their members working in various Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs)  that children pick some of these used  face masks which are disposed off indiscriminately on the refuse dumps to wear or play with.  These suspected contaminated masks, some of which are dumped in our water bodies while others are also thrown on the streets and drains are likely to be dangerous or injurious to human health.

To this effect, they are  suggesting to Government to develop Guidelines for the disposal of nose and face masks, used tissue papers, hand gloves etc in our various homes and this must be facilitated by  Registered Environmental Health Officers also known as Public Health Enforcement Agents.

They have also observed with concern that the concrete chairs fixed at most of the lorry stations or terminals must be disinfected with the appropriate disinfectants because they are normally used at night as sleeping places for the Mentally Challenged (mad men/women) whose status are normally unknown but can be infected easily as they eat left over foods and drinks found on the streets.

To this effect, they are suggesting to government to consider disinfecting all lorry stations or terminals more often especially the firmly fixed concrete seats as a matter of urgency.  These exercises, they suggest must be supervised by the Registered Environmental Health Officers.

They are therefore calling on all relevant stake holders and Government to put all necessary measures in place in prioritizing the role of the Environmental Health Officer as a matter of urgency towards curbing the community spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
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