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Excessive Heat: Cause to invest more in Meningitis prevention

April 4, 2024
Excessive Heat Cause to invest more in Meningitis prevention

The impact of surging heatwaves and the attendant consequences on every aspect of human life, especially on health, cannot be overstated.
This is one of the many symptoms of climate change the world is experiencing, and Ghana is not an exception.

The extreme weather conditions, diminishing sea ice, year after year of record-breaking warmth, drought, fires, and stress to ecosystems are to mention but a few.
Climate change is no longer an abstract term as some people would perceive it. The high temperatures currently experienced in Ghana, particularly in the northern sector, is a clear manifestation of the much-talked-about phenomenon of climate change.

The effects are already being felt, threatening human health, existence of communities, national and local economies, national and regional security, and by extension, future generations.

The (GMet) said in an alert on February 20, 2024, that elevated temperatures were expected until April 2024. The Agency urged the country to brace up for the scorching weather within that period.

The GMet warned that the predicted surge in temperature is attributable to the sun moving towards the equator, with the peak happening on 20th March 2024, surpassing the prevailing conditions.

It said the northern half of the country should anticipate a higher temperature of between 36°c and 42°c while the southern half should anticipate a temperature between 33°c and 37°c.

Though the sun's movement is a natural activity, climate change's impact on heat cannot be ruled out.
The situation is not only peculiar to Ghana, but across the world in diverse ways including melting ice and rising sea levels.
For instance, a BBC report on Monday, March 18, this year, said heatwaves had compelled the South authorities to shut down schools.

Impact on Health
It is common knowledge that the surge in temperatures and heat waves exerted on the earth negatively impacts people's health.
The (WHO) said: “Exposure to excessive heat had wide-ranging psychological impacts on all humans, often amplifying existing conditions and resulting in premature deaths and disabilities.”

The northern part of Ghana, particularly the Region, had been experiencing the dire impact of increased heatwaves on the health of the people.

Meningitis infection in Upper West Region

Meningitis is a disease associated with excessive heat, and its ravaging effect is felt in northern Ghana, sometimes resulting in fatalities.
It is a seasonal disease that attacks the Upper West Region annually, usually during the warm season, between January and April.
Information from the Regional Directorate of Health indicates that a total of 124 suspected cases of meningitis had been recorded in the region, with 34 confirmed cases and 10 deaths from January to March 2024.

The National Institute of Health's Centre for Biotechnology Information said 1,176 cases of bacterial meningitis were recorded in the Upper West Region with 118 deaths and 1,058 survivors between 2018 and 2020.

“Nandom Municipality had the highest Attack Rate (AR) at 492/100,000 persons, followed by Nadowli-Kaleo District at 314/100,000 persons. Jirapa (Municipality) had the highest case fatality rate (CFR) at 17%.”

Dr Collins Boateng Danquah, the Deputy Upper West Regional Director of Health Services in charge of Public Health, in an interview with the in , said the increasing heatwaves and the numbers of meningitis cases recorded in the region should be a source of concern to all, while advising residents to take the necessary precautionary measures to prevent contracting the disease.

Preventing Meningitis

Meningitis is not only associated with excessive heat but also with pathogens-infected dust, making it imperative to strictly adhere to preventive measures.
These measures, identified by Dr Danquah, include sleeping in well-ventilated rooms; avoiding overcrowded areas; staying indoors to avoid the scorching sun; wearing nose masks when in dusty areas such as market centres or when riding, especially on dusty roads, and increasing water intake.

He explained that children and the elderly above 60 years are most vulnerable to bacterial Meningitis disease because their immune systems are not strong enough.
He, therefore, emphasised the need to limit outdoor activities for school children and the elderly.

Dr Danquah indicated that the Ghana Health Services (GHS) is doing surveillance of the disease for early detection of suspected cases, testing, and treatment.
He said it was imperative that members of the public reported to the health facility when experiencing symptoms of meningitis for their samples to be taken and tested.

These symptoms are fever, headache, stiffness of the neck, convulsions and sometimes vomiting, among others.
The GMet also recommended that people should endeavour to stay hydrated, wear light clothing, keep a close eye on children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions, limit outdoor activities, particularly during peak hours to minimise exposure to extreme heat and seek medical advice if experiencing heat-related health concerns.

The Health Promotion Unit of the Upper West Regional Health Directorate also recommended that schoolteachers should encourage pupils to drink more water both at school and at home; moisturise their body, nostrils and lips with shea butter or Vaseline during the hot season to prevent cracks on their bodies, which serve as gateways for the bacterial to enter the human system.

It encouraged both adults and children to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of dust particles that may contain the bacteria, practice proper hand washing with soap under running water, while parents should critically observe their children, especially when they complain of headaches and body pain and seek medical care for them at the hospital.

The GMet observed that the health impacts of heat are predictable and preventable through public health actions.
It said to prevent the outbreak of Meningitis in the country, especially the Upper West Region, interventions should be directed towards clustered hotspots, focusing on zones with low prevalence to fence them off the high prevalence zones.

This is more important due to the mobility of people across the country, which had predisposed the entire nation to the risk of a meningitis outbreak, justifying the need for proactive actions and investment to preempt any unforeseen disaster, which could wreak havoc on the nation.

The World Health Organisation, state and para-state institutions and the private sector should also join forces to save the region from the disease by investing the needed resources into fighting it.

In addition, considering the role of climate change in the surge in heat waves and its accompanying impact on people's health, there should be conscious efforts towards reversing the phenomenon or mitigating its impact.

Every person has the responsibility to act, speak up against ill climate practices, observe climate-smart practices such as resorting to renewable energy and avoid tree felling and charcoal burning, which are predominant in northern Ghana.

As rightly put by Aliya Haq, a clean energy advocate: “Change only happens when individuals take action.”

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