‘Safe living with animals is critical to disease prevention’

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Orientation Workshop
Orientation Workshop

The Health Promotion Division (HPD) of the Ghana Health Service on Friday called on the public to live and work safely with domestic animals to prevent zoonotic diseases.

Ms Bridget Anim, the Deputy Director in Charge of Health Communication, HPD, said the interconnectedness of humans, animals, and the environment calls for conscious efforts in managing such interactions to prevent the spread of diseases from animals to humans and from person to person.

She said the HPD and its partners have, therefore, developed a Flip Chart on: Living and Working Safely with Animals in Ghana, to serve as guide in human’s activities with animals.

The Flip Chart was developed in line with the One Health Security Agenda to counter natural disease threats against humans, animals and the environment.

Ms Anim said this at an orientation workshop in Accra for Risk Communication and Social Mobilisation Technical Working Group at the National level.

She said the objective of the training was to improve the knowledge of participants to effectively engage individuals, groups and community members working and living with animals.

She commended all the key partners and stakeholders involved in the development of the Flip Chart, including the USAID and Breakthrough Action for their diverse contributions.

Ms Anim said it would serve as a practical tool for its users, while complementing the National Strategic Plan for Risk Communication currently under development, to help ensure safe health for Ghanaians.

Dr Emmanuel Fiagbe, the Country Director of Johns Hopkins University, described zoonotic diseases as diseases that spread between animals and humans, saying once present in a human population, same could further spread from person to person.

He said building on virgin lands, movement of people and animals, and interactions between human populations, their environment, and animals, predisposed communities to zoonotic diseases and, therefore, the need for effective surveillance to rapidly detect and respond appropriately to their outbreak.

He said most known human infectious diseases, roughly three out of every four new diseases in people, originated from animals.

Most zoonotic diseases could spread quickly within communities, country, or even around the globe if strong, harmonised prevention and control mechanisms incorporating community engagement were not in place.

Zoonotic diseases, he said, could threaten families, communities and society as a whole by causing morbidity and deaths in humans and animals leading to loss of livelihoods for those that depended on them.

That could also weaken national economic stability through loss of education, productivity, tourism and trade, he said.

Dr Fiagbe said the Ebola Disease Outbreak from 2014 to 2015 in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea was an example of zoonotic disease, resulting in the death of 11,316 people.

An estimated 10,600 others died due to interruptions in the provision of essential services for other diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV and AIDS.

He also cited the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana, which started as isolated incidents, but quickly spread through communities within a short period reaching every region of the country, leading to several adverse effects and fatalities.

One key lesson learnt was that community engagement also played an important role in supporting the rapid adoption of behaviours needed to break transmission and bring the outbreak under control, he said.

Ghana, through the One Health Security Agenda, supported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the US Centre for Disease Control, had prioritised six zoonotic diseases for preparedness and response activities.

These included anthrax, avian influenza, viral haemorrhagic fevers, rabies, trypanosomiasis, and zoonotic tuberculosis, because they had been found to have epidemic potentials.

Mr Joel Nyaaba Abekuliya, the Health Communication Strategist at the Health Promotion Division of the GHS, explained that the flip chart had content that addressed high-risk behaviours associated with living with domestic animals and wildlife.

It was intended to increase awareness and prevent priority zoonotic diseases and other emerging public health threats.

The occasion was also used to outdoor a rabies prevention guide for basic schools, which contained basic information and safety tips.

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable viral disease of warm-blooded animals most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal such as dogs and cats.

Mr Abekuliya said teachers, especially school health and safety programme officers, had important roles to play in ensuring children learnt the right actions to take to avoid dog bites and the resultant rabies infection.

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