The decision by traditional heads to modify cultural practices followed a capacity building and orientation workshop held at Bongo in the Upper East Region on ways of preventing Ebola and cholera. The workshop, which was organised by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and the Institute of Social Research and Development (ISRAD), a non-profit local organisation, was attended by traditional and religious leaders. Funding for the programme was from UKaid.
Last year, following the emergence of the Ebola disease in parts of West Africa and an outbreak of cholera in the country, ISRAD undertook a number of activities to raise awareness on the signs and symptoms of the diseases, their modes of transmission and ways of preventing them.
Activities undertaken in various districts included building the capacities and awareness of traditional and religious leaders, training community health surveillance volunteers, conducting house-to-house and in-school teaching programmes, and hosting of community durbars.
Traditional rulers interviewed by the Daily Graphic in Bongo and Paga said they were motivated to initiate moves to modify aspects of their cultural practices after receiving knowledge on the two diseases.
The Paramount Chief of the Bongo Traditional Area ,Naba Baba Salifu, said the Traditional Council had issued a directive requesting that no corpse be kept for more than one day before burial.
“Those who would want to keep their corpse for longer periods are advised to arrange with the hospital to have it kept in the morgue as they consider a period for burial,” a member of the traditional council, Naba Aleemyaarum, stated.
According to him, the Bongo Traditional Council had organised a community awareness programme on Ebola and cholera and had asked that any person suspected of having the diseases be sent to the nearest health facility as quickly as possible.
The Chief of Kazigu-Buru in the Kassena Nankana West District, Pe Parekuri Thomas Aluah, commended ISRAD for organising the workshop. He said the palace had held a series of durbars to have cultural practices in the area that pose health risks either modified or abolished.
He said, for instance, the community was advised to modify the way social events such as parties, funerals and burial services were held in order to reduce the risk of spreading diseases.
“People in the traditional area have been told not to keep corpses for too long. In addition, undertakers have been advised not to handle dead bodies with their bare hands and to wash their hands thoroughly after working. We are monitoring the situation to ensure the rules are followed,” he said.
The Executive Director of ISRAD, Dr Mawiya Zakaria, said considering the geographical location of Ghana in the West Africa sub region, some cultural practices such as shaking of hands and ways in which the dead were prepared for burial ,among others, exposed the country to a possibility of an Ebola attack.
He said it was in this context that his outfit was complementing the efforts of government to heighten awareness on the Ebola and cholera diseases. He said, so far his outfit had been able to educate about 1,870 traditional and religious leaders in the three northern regions of the country.
According to him, ISRAD had also held five meetings attended by about 1,725 people and visited 28 schools with a total student population of 4,130. He said through the house-to-house awareness programme, ISRAD had been able to visit 53,852 households and reached out to 298,149 people.
Dr Zakaria said in partnership with the GHS, the NGO had trained 600 community health surveillance volunteers in 600 communities.
The Bongo Zonal Coordinator of ISRAD, Mr Abdul-Majeed Ayebire, commended the chiefs for the interest shown in the workshop , their participation and support. He said a number of chiefs in other parts of northern Ghana were also considering modifying some cultural practices in their areas that impacted negatively on the people’s health.
He appealed to UKaid and other public-spirited organisations to support communities by providing hand-washing equipment and dustbins to assist them maintain good personal hygiene and sound environmental sanitation practices.