How one man’s act of kindness protected an entire community from a deadly disease.
KOJOKURA, Savanna Region, 26 February 2022 - “I have many friends and business partners who are members of the nomadic community in this area. So even though I live about an hour away from them, I visit them a lot by bike. A few weeks ago, I noticed something very strange. Whenever I’d visit my friends, their children looked sick and weak. I asked several times whether they had received medical attention, but their parents kept brushing it off. One day during a visit, we heard one of the mothers shouting for help because she realized her child was unresponsive. I run to her hut, helped her carry the child, got on my motorbike and we started off to the hospital. A few minutes after we set off, the child stopped breathing.”
Alhaji Musa Yakubu lives in Damongo in the Savanna region. He is a butcher by profession and works closely with Fulani herdsmen who help to supply cattle for his business. He recounts this moment when his friend’s child died on the way to the hospital. Sadly, this wouldn’t be the last.
“A few days after the incident, one of the community members called me to say that his pregnant wife who was showing the same symptoms as many of the children and adults in the community also passed away. At this point, I became worried. I quickly went to a friend who is a doctor at the West Gonja Hospital and described some of the symptoms I had noticed. He suspected it could be yellow fever. He informed the Ghana Health Service after I left and that’s how the campaign started.”
After further checks, the Ghana Health Service quickly deployed a team to Kojokura community, led by Alhaji Musa. According to Alhaji, when they saw the Ghana Health Service team approaching, they tried to escape. It was after they noticed he was with the team that they felt reassured.
Equipped with vaccines and carriers, the health workers ensured that all community members aged 9 months to 60 years were vaccinated and their vaccination cards duly given to them.
Yellow fever is a disease caused by a virus transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. The infection can cause serious illness and death. Symptoms include fever, yellowing of the eyes, dark urine, bleeding (from the nose, ear, mouth, and other parts of the body), chills, general body aches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and weakness, shock and failure of many organs.
With over 41 deaths out of 878 suspected cases recorded, the Ghana Health Service with support from UNICEF embarked on a vaccination campaign – the first phase in December 2021 and the second in February 2022, aimed at reaching over 500,000 people in twenty-eight districts in nine regions.
UNICEF provided yellow fever vaccines, social mobilization using multiple channels of communication and technical support during the campaign. Regions are also being supported to build capacity, undertake behaviour change communication and enhance cold chain management to ensure the safe and efficient storage of vaccines. Thanks to funding from the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine provision, through UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service are receiving the needed support to eliminate yellow fever in the country.
Amina Salifu, who also lives in KojoKura shared how Alhaji Musa’s timely actions saved her four-year-old daughter Hawa. “It wasn’t that long ago, she was so sick, her eyes were yellow, and she could barely walk. I didn’t know what to do. My neighbour’s child died when they tried taking him to the hospital so I was so afraid I would lose her. Alhaji Musa is the only one we know here who helps us from time to time, so I told him. Two days after I did, he came here with a team and assured us that they have come with vaccines that would save us and our children from this disease. He is our friend, and he helps us out a lot, so we were reassured. My entire family got vaccinated. I’m so happy to see my Hawa smile again.”
Thanks to champions like Alhaji Musa, the entire community of Kojokura has been vaccinated not only against the yellow fever virus, but also the COVID-19 virus.