Unhealthy environment and poor hygiene kill more than Ebola

When news of Ebola broke out in Liberia, it was greeted by mixed reactions; fear gripped many and many disbelieve—even to date.  
On the other hand, Some Liberians and the U.S. Embassy thought Liberia’s health officials exaggerated the whole Ebola thing. 
Although Ebola was officially confirmed to be in Liberia, others believe the measures put in place to curb the spread were unnecessary and impossible to abide by, given Liberians’ traditional way of livelihood.
The government of Liberia and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare began to put in place measures intended to curb the spread of the disease.
Among those measures are desisting from handshakes, kissing, avoiding physical contact with people, sanitizing hands, avoiding consumption of bush meat, and etc. 
But as God could have it, Ebola did not spread and did not cause much disaster as anticipated by many. According to recent statistics released by health officials, only six cases were discovered positive and all six victims died; there has been no new case so far.
What prompted this article is the attitude by our leaders to wait until something terrible as health-related problem happens before creating awareness among the people.
For example, if one looks around Monrovia, one would see very deadly surroundings. Besides, foods in the streets are not safe for consumption, because they are left in the open, and flies and other germs carriers sit on them.
Last year an article, titled:  “Poor preparation, handling of street foods and others have serious health risks” was published in this newspaper, alerting health authorities about the health hazard of Monrovia and its environs. In that article, suggestions were put forward for how to alleviate the threats to our health, but poor hygiene and poor food handling continue without health authorities raising any concern.

But for the sake of the reading public and those concerned, the article is hereby republished as follows:

We often hear people complain about stomach pains¬–and when the pains get worse–or when medical drugs fail to ease or remove the pains–we diagnose it ourselves, calling it witchcraft or spiritual illness.

The first thing that comes to our minds, is this question, “Where must I have eaten recently and what was it that I ate?”  We ignore the fact that we get food poison right in our homes depending on how we handle and prepare and what we do with the food with respect to our personal hygiene.

The next thing that comes to our minds is “Who this person from whom I have eaten, and what does he or she have against me?” We would then dig deeper to try to unravel the self-made mystery of our illness.

While we concentrate our investigation on witchcraft and forget about the many street foods we ate during the course of the week, the pain is deteriorating, and the stomach is getting big and bigger by the day. The slow pace at which medical doctors or physicians treat our illness can lead to us turning to spiritual solution of our illness, thinking spiritual treatment is the fastest and reliable means of healing.

But what most people don’t observe in our streets in terms of food is the manner, preparation and handling of the foods, including cook shops and restaurants.  Our foods in the streets, including roasted and fried fish, chicken, sausage, meat, rice and soup, etc are contaminated by the following:

First, some of those who prepare the food don’t wash their hands continuously during preparation, and they serve the food with their bare hands, and those bare hands are contaminated. Second, the open foods are exposed to all kinds of germs. Third, some cook shops are in environments that are not conducive, meaning that they breed a variety of germs that are from the bad drainages, still dirty water, and feces are nearby where foods are being served.

In shops, too, a man or a woman who has just left the bath room would serve bread with her or his bare hands. Sometimes she or he has just finished playing with money and would use her or his bare hands to prepare bread for a customer. That hand was contaminated and has health concern. Average Liberians ignore or don’t know or are not educated on these manners of food preparation and services and the health risk thereof.

Street foods are pleasing and delicious to the eyes but are not safe for consumption. When speaking of street foods, not necessarily only the foods on the sidewalks, but also as stated early, street foods include foods that we eat outside our houses–it could be in the very expensive and decent looking restaurants and cook shops.

After all, we don’t know what happens behind the scenes as to how the foods are processed and prepared. Next, we don’t have any inspectors who go out to regulate how foods should be handled and what conditions and requirements food businesses should meet before making foods, especially cooked foods. In other words, we are on our own, and everyone makes, handles and serves foods whatever way to the detriment of the consumers.

Do all stomach pains the result of eating street foods? Absolutely not, but street foods can contribute to health risk in a significant way.  We do get sick in the stomachs and other parts of our body from ignoring our common hygiene–common hygiene in a sense that we tend to ignore the places that breed germs that are harmful to our health.

For example, we dump dirt close to our homes. The dirt breeds germs from flies that make use of the garbage for their food and leave the garbage and enter into our houses. Because we are ignorant or just don’t care about our health, we leave foods open. Flies sit on our foods and leave germs in no time. When stomach pain comes we first attempt to accuse some innocent person, because he or she is an older person or has been accused before as a witch or a wizard.

Next, we either forget or don’t know that we have to wash our hands after we use a bathroom or finished using the latrine–even when we only urinate–we should wash our hands to get rid of the germs left on our hands. When we forget or out of ignorance, to wash our hands, we would also forget and use those same hands to eat; most often we shake others’ hands and pass the germs on to them.

Furthermore, we are exposed to feces around and close to our homes. This condition can be attributed partly to lack of toilets in some neighborhoods.  But is lack of toilet in one’s neighborhood an excuse to give out excrement around and close to our houses? Could there be an alternative such as building a toilet so that the feces can be unexposed?

In conclusion, given the poor and minimum health care in the country, it is advisable that Liberians, especially Monrovians watch and take note of the kind of food we eat, our personal hygiene, surroundings, and –how these conditions associated with the latter can affect our health. Liberians do very well at weight watch than health watch, and things that can affect our health gravely. 

On the other hand, let government get involved by instituting measures and passing laws that aim to regulate how people handle foods so as to minimize the spread of those sicknesses that come from bad handling or poor preparation of foods.

Let inspectors return as it used to be where they, inspectors, would make sure cooked foods meet government’s required standard and environment, and ensure that facilities where foods are prepared are of standard and glove system be introduced–making a law for those who handle food to wear plastic or transparent gloves before they can serve customers in the streets, cook shops and restaurants.


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