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At a glance: Ghana

Miss Ghana joins hands with UNICEF to advance child health and nutrition

© UNICEF 2005
Lamisi Mbillah, Miss Ghana 2006, speaks to the Gburimani community in the Northern Region of Ghana about preventing guinea worm.

By Lamisi Mbillah

Lamisi Mbillah, 23, is in the final part of her reign as Miss Ghana 2006. On 30 September, she became the first African recipient of the Beauty with a Purpose award at the Miss World competition in Warsaw, Poland. She won the award on the basis of the work she has done with UNICEF, using a five-minute version of the video posted on the right of this page as her submission.

Here, Ms. Mbillah recounts her work with UNICEF to raise awareness about issues affecting Ghanaian children.

GHANA, 2 October 2006 – I was elected Ghana’s beauty queen last year, but long before that moment, I knew that being Miss Ghana would be far more than just a title for me. The honour and privilege of winning the contest put me in a unique position to spend my time in service to others.

I have used my crown to help UNICEF spread awareness about two critical campaigns close to the nation’s heart: the fights against guinea worm, a debilitating waterborne disease, and iodine deficiency, which unfortunately is still prevalent in many parts of Africa.

It has been a whirlwind year and now I can barely catch my breath, but it has been more than worth it.

© Upper East Regional Directorate 2005
In her home village of Zottrikuom, in the Upper East Region, Miss Ghana 2006 poses with local children.

Preventing guinea worm

For years, Ghana has struggled to eradicate guinea worm. Poor and rural communities that lack access to clean water carry the burden of the disease, and children are the most vulnerable to contracting it.

Ghana is one of only seven remaining countries worldwide in which guinea worm is endemic. In 2004, Ghana reported more cases of guinea worm than any other country in the world.

As the ambassador for the national campaign to rid Ghana of this illness, I partnered with the Ghana Guinea Worm Eradication Programme, the Ministry of Health, the Carter Foundation and UNICEF. I visited 20 endemic communities in seven districts in the Northern and Brong Ahafo Regions of Ghana, where village meetings (known as ‘durbars’) and drama groups were used to educate people on preventive practices.

I also visited 10 schools and talked with the students about the risks of guinea worm, demonstrating the use of pipe-and-cloth water filters. With support from the British High Commission, I helped raise more than $10,000 to buy an additional 50,000 pipe filters for distribution in endemic villages.

These and other interventions have proven to be effective. Today, we have reason to hope that guinea worm is in retreat. Between 2004 and 2005, the number of cases dropped by 46 per cent.

© Photo Club 2005
Miss Ghana 2006 has used her crown to help UNICEF tackle major issues affecting Ghanaian children.

The importance of iodized salt

I also teamed up with UNICEF to spearhead the campaign to achieve universal salt iodization in Ghana. Ensuring that all salt is adequately iodized is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to improve quality of life. Sadly, about 120,000 Ghanaian children are born each year with intellectual impairment due to iodine deficiency during the mother’s pregnancy.

Other effects of iodine deficiency include cretinism (stunted growth), irreversible brain damage, disfiguring and painful goitre, as well as increased risk of stillbirth and miscarriage in pregnant women. Between 2005 and 2014, lost wages due to iodine deficiency in Ghana will have amounted to an estimated $1.2 billion, which could otherwise be channelled into development projects.

To spread awareness about the importance of iodized salt, I launched the Upper East Regional campaign in the Garu-Tempane District and later travelled across the country. I took my message to villages, to the radio airwaves, to officials in the salt industry and even to the President of Ghana.

The end of my reign is fast approaching, but my commitment to improving the lives and welfare of the children of Ghana has no limit. I feel humbled and grateful to serve such a noble cause and pray that I can do much more in the coming years.




28 September 2006:
Lamisi Mbillah, Miss Ghana 2006, describes her work on health and nutrition issues affecting Ghanaian children.
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