By: Jacky Habib
ACCRA, GHANA – On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Citi FM reporter Eugenia Tenkorang and I walk through the streets of Old Fadama. We are in Accra’s largest slum to explore the impact water and sanitation conditions have on children’s health.
Old Fadama, commonly referred to as Sodom and Gomorrah, lies the outskirts of the city and is home to 95,000 people- the majority of whom are migrants from the country’s north. Those living here have a rocky relationship withthe government, who considers this settlement illegal and often threatens its residents with eviction.
We see naked children walking amongst goats and chickens roaming freely through the muddy streets. Motorcycles zip past playing children. The kids are inventive and play with bottle caps and string.
On every block, people are cooking on outdoor grills. Charcoal ash curls into the air. We hear some children cough, while others laugh and play.
Litter is common and consists mostly of plastic bags and bottles, although we also find electronics and ripped flip-flops.
Since most people do not have shower or toilet facilities in their homes, there are several privately operated facilities which people can access for a fee. Use of a shower costs 50 pesewas (25 cents) and a bucket of water or use of a washroom costs 40 pesewas (20 cents). Sometimes people will avoid paying this fee by openly defecating in the slum’s gutters or the nearby lagoon. To combat this, the community set up a task force to patrol and fine offenders 50 pesewas (25 cents).
George Ndikibi, a pharmacist who operates the only registered pharmacy in Old Fadama, has his work cut out for him. He has worked in the slum for 18 years and is well acquainted with the needs of the community. Although he doesn’t reside in Old Fadama, he is a passionate advocate for the introduction of health care facilities in the slum.
Ndikibi says that living in Old Fadama is a barrier to accessing government services. “This is what haunts us here,” he says. “We are seen as squatters, so the government thinks we shouldn’t have social amenities. Look at this big community- we deserve a clinic. It is our right.”
Although there is no medical clinic or hospital in Old Fadama, residents receive medical attention from the nurses at nearby Princess Marie Louise Hospital. Nurses from the hospital canvas the community on a daily basis, going from house to house to give nutrition and health tips, focusing on children.
Ndikibi says that people living in Old Fadama tend not to visit nearby hospitals as wait times are lengthy. They prefer to be given medication and be sent on their way. He tries, with varying success, to convince them that a hospital visit is necessary. Occasionally women want to visit the hospital, for themselves or for their children, but face opposition from their husbands. Ndikibi speaks with them to convince them that a hospital visit is worthwhile.
Occasionally, mothers will return to him and tell him that their children have passed away. Thankfully, he says these numbers have been reduced since nurses started canvassing.
As the slum’s only pharmacist, Ndikibi sees many patients who are unable to pay for their medications. “They can come without a pesewa. I have to spend, a lot,” he says. So far this year, Ndikibi has given 3,200 cedis ($1,523) worth of free medication.
In Old Fadama, the African proverb rings true: it takes a village to raise a child. What Ndikibi shows me is that sometimes it takes just one person to save a child.