A dangerous phenomenon is gradually ripping some societies, especially in rural areas of the Ashanti Region apart and if care is not taken the next generation needed to build one of Ghana’s most vibrant regions would remain a mirage.
Within the last decade, many children in soap-making rural communities in the region and Kadewaso in the Atwima District in particular have had to be taken to the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi for corrective measures on their throats.
The damaged throats of these children, most of whom are under five years, are as a result of their drinking caustic soda, a key ingredient in the manufacture of soap.
In many cases, these children mistake the whitish concoction usually placed in damaged refrigerators and in drums and barrels in the open for water.
Their mothers, most of whom combine the soap business with farming, are said to be always busy and hardly notice the ‘trap’ they inadvertently set for their children until the harm is caused.
The results of the apparent recklessness by the parents have been dire and most children’s lives still hang in the balance. Even the scars of those who have undergone successful surgery under the watch of a paediatric surgeon of KATH, Dr Michael Amoah, still haunt them.
The victims, either by accident or by design, are all from very deprived communities and families who struggle to feed themselves.
This has put a lot of pressure on KATH which is continually struggling to raise the needed cash to save the lives of the children.
It has been a daunting task for KATH where the CEO, Dr Joseph Akpaloo, and his team have been racking their brains on how to raise resources to cater for the children.
So far, only two companies have come to the aid of the hospital but that support is only a drop in the ocean considering the amount involved in treating a patient.
According to doctors at KATH, it costs between Gh¢12,000 and Gh¢14,000 depending on the gravity of the injury to treat an affected child.
Zeal Environmental Technologies Limited, a maritime environmental waste company, has given out Gh¢ 50,000 while N. N. EST Metal Company has also donated GH¢115,000.
Their combined contribution has, however, been able to cater for only 15 children while more than 60 more are in critical conditions.
Dr Amoah and his team have been frustrated because a chunk of the money is being used to feed the patients to gain the appropriate weight before surgery can be carried out.
Most of the affected children are malnourished, making operating on them dangerous.
Some of the children are ready to be operated upon but the hospital has run out of cash while help from benevolent people is not forthcoming.
The fear is that if these patients are allowed to go back to their villages, they would return malnourished.
“KATH is indeed torn between the devil and the deep blue sea and only time will tell how we can adequately solve this problem,” one of the doctors said.
Among those expected to be included in the first batch of beneficiaries is a three-year-old boy, Godfred Amponsah.
His 20-year-old mother, Helena Aboagye, a soap maker from the Bosomtwe District, left some soda meant for making soap in a bowl unattended to only for the boy to swallow a quantity.
His throat and the entire oesophagus are now completely damaged and swallowing saliva is even difficult for him.
Godfred is currently surviving on a temporary by-pass created near the left side of the stomach by Dr Amoah and his team to enable the medical team to feed him.
One of the treated children who benefited from the donations by the two companies, five-year-old Georgina Fosua Twerefour, is terrified each time she sees the scars on her stomach and throat.
The doctors say she would still need a psychologist to help her integrate fully into society.
Indeed, according to Fosua’s father, Mr Thomas Twerefour, she mistakenly swallowed the soda at age two and has now vowed never to remove her dress in public for fear of being mocked by friends.
Mr Twerefour, a farmer, said he was grateful that his daughter’s live had been saved despite the stress the family had had to go through.
The story of Georgina has been an eye-opener to many other families, especially those at Kadewaso, as parents now try to constantly keep their eyes on their children.
Though there is a campaign to avoid the recurrence of the menace, the numbers of affected children keep increasing in other parts of the country, especially in the northern sector.
With KATH being the main referral point in the northern sector of the country, the fight to end the phenomenon appears to be an uphill task.
The only solution to the problem, according to Dr Akpaloo, is through regular education and financial support from both individuals and corporate organisations to save those already on admission and are ready to be operated upon.