I remember that every year around this time, most of the radio stations in Wa will have personnel from Ghana Health Service (GHS) come on air to talk about communicable disease that are common around this time of the year. I left Wa on 28th February this year, so I cannot tell if this yearly activity was carried out. However, I am sure the focus has been shifted more on COVID 19 which came like a thief at night. All other issues and conditions related to health have been relegated to the background. When it first became known that there were recorded cases of this ugly disease, a lot of people still did not pay attention to it. Little efforts were made to put in place measures to help curb this disease. I am not talking of any disease other than Cerebrospinal meningitis commonly known on the tongues of many as CSM. It is a very serious infection that can lead to death especially in cases where the patients do not seek early diagnosis and treatment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alarmingly, 10-15% of patients diagnosed of CMS die.
About two weeks ago, a lot of young people from the Upper West region were posting messages on social media to ask the government to do something about the increasing number of CSM cases especially after it was reported that about forty people have lost their lives due to CSM. After it was reported that thirty-seven people have died from CSM, people in the region were expecting to hear something from the president in his address to the nation on COVID 19. Unfortunately, nothing was said, many young people felt disappointed about this issue, but then it doesn’t mean we have to fold our hands and watch as more people die from this disease. My contribution is to help more people know about CSM, and what to do to help curb this disease. It may interest you to know that, CSM (Meningitis) is caused by bacterial, viral and fungi which results in the inflammation of the membranes covering (protecting) your brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. In simple terms, the swelling of the meninges caused by bacterial, viral and fungi is known as “meningitis”.
Our environment plays a key role, such as dry weather, dust winds, high temperatures during the day and cold temperatures at night especially during harmattan and before the rains starts. This explains why there is recent outbreak of CSM in the upper west region, the region is noted to have a very high temperature, dry weather, dusty winds and other harsh weather conditions. Also, people living in over crowded, less ventilated houses and in areas where there are very poor sanitation conditions are vulnerable to respiratory infections, such areas encourage the growth and survival of the bacterial. Bacterial and viral infections are transmitted through tiny droplets of respiratory secretions (such as saliva) from infections during close contact with infected persons such as kissing, sneezing, coughing, sharing of drinking and eating utensils such as cups, drinking glasses, cutlery and so on.
Anyone can contract CSM but people whose bodies have trouble fighting infections are more vulnerable and susceptible to this disease. The common Signs and Symptoms include sudden high fever, (temperature), severe headache, stiffness of the neck (no wonder in Waale and Dagaare it called nyugbeli baalong, meaning twisted neck disease), increased sensitivity to light (photophobia), nausea and vomiting, confusion, convulsions, muscle pain, bulging/swelling of the anterior fontanelle (soft part of the head) in babies, cold hands or feet and mottled skin, in some cases, a rash that does not fade under pressure. I hope our neighbours from Upper East, Northern, Savannah and North East regions have already taken note and putting in place measures not to get there. Remember the saying that when your neighbour’s beard is on fire, you fetch water and put yours inside?
Early detection and treatment is advised to help prevent long term complications such as loss of sense of hearing (deafness), blindness, epilepsy seizures, brain damage and others. That is why health personnel always emphasis that you see a doctor as soon as you have any of the symptoms of CSM. The Upper West regional minister in his address to the media mentioned that most of the deaths could have been prevented if the patients had reported to the health centres early. The region has recorded 258 cases of CSM with 40 deaths within the period of January 1 to April 12, 2020, the death rate of the disease stood at 15.5 per cent. Even though this is not the first time the region is recoding cases of CSM, this year has been different, the cases are high over a short time and the number of deaths are alarming.
This means that there is hope for anyone who experiences any of these symptoms, the only condition is that you have to get to the health centre as soon as possible so that the health personnel can attend to you. We can also avoid direct contact with people who are coughing or sneezing, avoid crowded places, create ventilation in your homes by opening windows to allow the circulation of fresh air (some people even sleep outside on their verandas, but you have to use a mosquito net and ensure that reptiles will not crawl into your sleeping space), seek medical help when you notice any of the symptoms of CSM. Let us also be mindful of how we dress during this season, and take a cold shower as often as we can to help cool the temperature of the body. Fortunately, this comes at a time when the country is under lock down, thus activities of crowded places such as schools, markets, churches, funerals and so on have reduced considerably.
The doctors and nurses cannot fight this alone, you and I all have a role to play. I saw a lot of people writing about CSM on social media and tagging most of the “big men”, we have received some good news and some actions have been taken. The WHO has already sent 7500 vials of ceftriaxone, 1,100 infusions and five packs of pastorex to help fight the disease. There is also an additional 540 vials of ceftriaxone from donors to help fight CSM in the region. A team of experts have also been dispatched to the region to help manage the situation.
Even as we educate our people about the COVID 19 especially those who do the education through the various radio stations, let us not forget to continue reminding them about all these other diseases, if not while we are busy watching our fighting death externally, it may be in our very midst and before we realise, we are killed by what we never expected. Washing of hands with soap under running water will not only help us stay safe from COVID 19, it will also help us to keep safe from some of these diseases. Let us all join hands to educate and inform others to prevent and avoid contracting CSM,
This blog post is co-authored by Dora Mwinteroo, she is a nurse assistant, a passionate writer and performing poet. Dora is an advocate for development, togetherness and positivity. We dedicate this piece to all CSM patients, the families of those who have died from CSM and all health professionals in the region fighting against CSM. CHEERS!