Prof. Mark Mawutor Tettey, Head of Department of Surgery, UG Medical School and acting Director, National Cadiothoracic Centre, delivering his lecture. Picture: ERNEST KODZI
Prof. Mark Mawutor Tettey, Head of Department of Surgery, UG Medical School and acting Director, National Cadiothoracic Centre, delivering his lecture. Picture: ERNEST KODZI

Ban sale of caustic soda on open market — Cardio specialist

A consultant cardiologist has called on the government and the relevant agencies to ban the sale of caustic soda on the open markets across the country.

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Professor Mark Mawutor Tetteh, who is also the acting Director of the National Cardiothoracic Centre (NCTC), said banning such poisonous substance, which was mostly used for the manufacture of soaps in the country, would prevent children and adults alike from accidentally ingesting them.

Such ingestion, he explained, destroyed the nerves and muscles that were involved in swallowing and distorted the anatomy of the entire pharynx (throat), causing some victims to perish and those who survived to be maimed for life.

“Every month, children are ingesting these dangerous substances and are we as a country going to stay aloof just watching this happen to us?” he asked.

Formulate policies

Delivering his inaugural address at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana, last Thursday, Prof. Tetteh said if for nothing at all, the stakeholders needed to formulate policies and laws to regulate the import, packaging and the sale of such dangerous substance.

“We must educate the end-users, especially the illiterate and the semi-literate mothers. This is an opportunity for Ghana to take the lead in showing the way in managing this menace in the sub-region,” he said.

He spoke on the topic: “The scourge of caustic burns to the throat: The challenges of restoring a normal swallowing mechanism”. The lecture highlighted the management of complex complications of caustic injection and the damage it caused to pharyngoesophageal (throat) stricture (PES).

Deceptive poison

Prof. Tetteh argued that in the developed world, the sale of caustic soda had been banned on the open market because “they care for the vulnerable in their society”. Showing disturbing photos of children who suffered from ingesting caustic soda, the renowned surgeon noted that caustic soda and battery acid were strong alkali or acids that were highly corrosive, irritative and caused severe burns by reacting with the human tissues.

He said the substances, which were key ingredients in the manufacture of soaps locally by unemployed mothers in villages and towns, were responsible for 95 per cent of the complications of caustic ingestion seen at the NCTC.

Sadly, he said those “deadly poisonous” substances were sold on the open market without labels. “The caustic soda solutions are kept in familiar containers at home such as cups, water or mineral bottles when a typical solution of caustic soda is colourless, odourless and tasteless.

“They are thus very deceptive and caused children of such mothers and their friends to reach out to containers thinking that what is in them is water and they drink it before realising that it is poison.”

Uphill surgical operations

The acting Director of the NCTC stated that the worst form of the complications that occurred in patients who survived ingestion of such substance was severe throat or intractable pharyngoesophageal stricture, while surgical procedures to restore swallowing in patients with PES was an uphill task and sometimes, impossible.

He said patients could not swallow their own saliva and breathe through their nose, with most of them having a tube through their throats to be able to breath. “Most patients have this tube throats through the abdominal wall into their stomach for them to feed.

“When you take the statistics from developed countries, most of these injuries are below five per cent but when you take our area where we expose the vulnerable to high concentration of these caustic substances, the level of damage is more than 20 per cent.

“In Ghana, for instance, our percentage is about 20 to 22 per cent of patients who swallow caustic substances having damage at the pharynx level,” he said. “So, restoring swallowing in this category of patients is a huge challenge for the surgeon because invariably when you attempt to do any reconstruction, it is complicated by aspiration (choking),” Prof. Tetteh said.

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