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School of Hygiene losing its essence

BY: Arku Jasmine

A view of one of the blocks. INSET: Cracks on one of the ceilings exposing the iron rods of the building.The School of Hygiene at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, established to ensure good sanitation in the country, is reeling under problems, including poor sanitation, which it is mandated to fight.

The premier health institution that was established to train environmental health officers to prevent insanitary environmental conditions that promote ill health is losing its essence.

The role of the school

The school was established in 1976 under the ambit of the Health Ministry to, among other duties, train environmental health officers to promote the health of the general public by supervising the collection, transportation and disposal of solid and liquid waste.  Malaria and yellow fever, which were common in the society at the time, led to the establishment of the school so that it could reach out to the public with education on hygiene and domestic sanitation. It was initially affiliated to the prestigious London School of Hygiene and is the mother of the two other state-funded hygiene schools in Tamale and Ho.

State of the school

Speaking to the Daily Graphic in an interview at the school, the Principal, Mr Henry Narteh Adipah, said structures of the school had been in a bad state for more than 16 years.

Currently, sewage from the second floor spills onto the first and ground floors of the students’ hostel, while the white walls of the building are defaced, as a result of algae infection. Most of the water closets are non-functional.

Mr Adipah was of the view that even though environmental health officers, together with others, played a vital role in waste management, health promotion and hygiene education, the health officers received little attention from the government.

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For instance, he said, renovation of the hostel was awarded to Willican Construction Limited in 2006, but it could not be completed due to the government’s inability to release funds.

“This building has been left untouched for the past 15 years as the building is gradually getting soaked with water and has become a death trap to many of us,” he said, and added that all appeals to the government to get the work completed had been in vain.

“It has been observed that other health training institutions get thousands of qualified applicants to their school every recruitment season, as compared to just over a hundred applicants to the environmental health officers training institution in Accra, due to the numerous challenges of the school,” Mr Adipah said. The insanitary condition in one of the washrooms.

Appeal

Mr Adipah appealed to the government to create more placement opportunities in other ministries for environmental health officers other than the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.

“It is emphatically obvious that the negligence of environmental hygiene and sanitation over the years is a major source of the numerous health problems in this country, therefore, the needed attention must be given,” he stressed.

The principal also cited a situation where the hostel nearly caused an injury to a student and stated that the schools of hygiene fed almost all health and environmental-related institutions across the country with their products and appealed to the government to give much attention to the school.

He said the school, a three-year diploma-awarding institution, had adequate land for the construction of residential accommodation for both teaching and non-teaching staff and called on the government and philanthropists to come to its aid.

With the recent oil discovery, emergence of many mining companies and issues concerning climate change and global warning, the principal indicated that there was the need for the training of more competent environmental health officers to monitor and manage the activities of those industries.

Minister of Health

When contacted, the Minister of Health, Ms Sherry Ayittey, said the ministry was aware of the numerous challenges the various health training institutions were facing currently and would want to advocate a public-private partnership for a solution, since the government could not shoulder the burden alone.     

She said poor sanitation was a problem and the country was recently ranked among the three African countries with poor sanitation record, adding that “this is an indication that the country has a herculean task in achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on sanitation, which targets the reduction by half of the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015”.

School laboratory

The renovation of the school’s environmental health laboratory has been completed and is equipped with modern equipment. The school’s library is also stocked with contemporary textbooks with about 99 per cent of the teaching staff having various master’s degrees.

The institution now boasts microscopes, incubators, hot incubators to re-equip the health laboratory and a new bus to send students out for field trips and clean-up exercises.

By Jennifer Ansah/Ghana