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Kissing the Floor; A Perspective into Consumer Health and Safety in Ghana

By Ruby Saakor Tetteh and Cynthia Djokoto

The hazards of displaying food items on bare surfaces in our markets is what we call kissing the floor in this article. This piece seeks to raise concerns on critical issues related to quality, food certification, consumer health as well as the unacceptable standards on this subject matter. It also highlights and creates the necessary awareness on foodstuffs that are displayed on the ground by traders and often patronized by consumers without recourse to any caution.

We kiss the floor every time we eat. This is very unsafe and dangerous to our health and wellbeing. Our floors are unhygienic as individuals spit, urinate and throw out faecal matter anywhere and at any opportunity. We must not also forget that the animals we openly rear in our communities compound the problem especially when we are unable to manage waste associated with it. This situation puts us in more danger and makes us vulnerable to contracting contagious diseases. We cannot continue with this practice because the consequences are dire; from health concerns, effect on productivity and socio-economic growth among others.  

In addition, our land surfaces are highly untidy and our environment deep in stench and dirt. Our towns and villages have not been spared because we have failed to manage the waste generated all over the country. Our water bodies have lost their place for any enjoyable recreational activity and have more often than not become waste disposal points. 

The waste management situation has become dreadful to the extent that it is not uncommon to see a trader selling foods items on the ground and attending to a customer whiles at the same time cleaning up the faecal matter of her baby with only water. It is a known fact that washing with water without soap is a waste of time and amounts to eating faeces for which the consumer is not spared. In this pickle, it is not surprising we are plagued with numerous water borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, typhoid fever, among others.
It also appears that environmental issues are not of any prime concern to us as a country. The relevant agencies seem to be dormant and from time to time pretend to be working. According to the 2014 World Factbook, individual access to improved sanitation facilities in Ghana is a little over 14% of the total Ghanaian population, with over 85% of the people having to deal with unimproved sanitation conditions. This situation thus exposes us to the danger of kissing the floor by what we are experiencing in our localities and its effects on our health and safety. So at best it has become a talk shop for agencies, individuals, policy makers, politicians and the like to pay lip service or scratching the surface of the issues that must be uprooted. This does not seem to help the situation because in as much as we kiss the floor all the time we cannot commend ourselves in any way.    

It is therefore not surprising that data from UNICEF on cholera as presented below shows a bleak state of affairs. In 2014, most of the reported cases in the Greater Accra region were from La, Teshie and Nungua. It is not surprising how it has spread all over the country. The Ghana Health Service reported 24648 cases with over 204 deaths. We are still counting and the cases that have not been reported we can all agree our guess is as good as yours.

DATA ON CHOLERA OUTBREAKS IN GHANA

Year

Number of Reported Cases

Number of Deaths

2011

10628

105

2012

9548

100

2013

50

0

Source: UNICEF

2014 (up to October)

24648

204

Source: Ghana Health Service

So, as the statistics above illustrates the situation is aggravating and we cannot pretend to be satisfied with things as they are. To add to this, ‘’In 2012, of the 30 countries that reported deaths from cholera, 23 were from the African continent, accounting for 2042 deaths or 67% of the global total.’’ Even on the global level Africa is placed at an unenviable point which is shameful. Our poor adherence to trading ethos and to almost no standards or certification is the result of our current predicament and such attitudes must cease.

The consequences of this current state of affairs on our society and on consumer health cannot be over-emphasized. It is scary to think of diseases that have been eradicated or prevented worldwide such as cholera, typhoid fever and other water borne diseases still prevalent in Ghana. To add to this, the 2014 World Factbook indicates that Ghana has about one doctor per a 1000 of the population. This must be a source of concern for all particularly that our health care system might be unable to handle health epidemics when they occur. In effect with such behavior of selling food items on the ground we are happily embracing these infections and putting to the dustbin our mandatory standards which have become voluntary standards in real terms.

We seem to be in the middle of nowhere with apparently no help from wherever. What has happened to the policy of prevention is better than cure? What about the talk of mandatory standards especially on food and water to aid consumer health and safety? We are now busily treating or managing our water borne diseases at huge cost. To add to these, consumers seem to be unaware of many basic things. The gloomy side of this is that our children are living our same old bad ways. No wonder Ghana records about 39 deaths per 1,000 children born within the country and is represented at a low 58th out of 223 countries according to the 2014 World Factbook. It is sad how we see our young ones abiding by the status quo and kissing the floor like us. To think of their weak immune system, we can see disaster knocking at the door. As a result, the resources we can utilize for more important things are employed for treatment rather than prevention. 

As a matter of fact, in places where there are toilets around our markets, they are either not clean or may not have proper cleaning agents.  As a result, it is the same old tune of compounding the problem of selling diseases on the ground and from the contaminated palms of the trader. We once complained when we met such a situation and an ignorant trader just uttered out ‘’so what should I do?’’ Guess she did not care nor had any clue of customer relations. It is certain that she had no sense of standards or regulations whatsoever in her trading sphere with such intolerable conduct. Well if the authorities or law enforcement agencies cared less; who would? What about issues of certification of locally consumed food? After all in Ghana it’s nobody’s business but the reality is it is each and everyone's, because life is a chain and we can all be infected just by one person kissing the floor.

In this modern and technologically advanced era we still place cooked food, fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, onions, banana, oranges, carrot, lettuce and pepper on the floor in the full glare of both the informed and uninformed as well as the policy maker and the law enforcer. Indeed, it is disheartening to see oranges heaped like a hill on the bare ground and on sale with consumers patronizing. However, a consumer once complained of the inappropriateness of the act of how yams are showcased for sale on the bare ground. The trader then retorted that, the yams kissing the floor are suitable because when yams get rotten the sand is used to patch the spot. According to her, with this operation the moldy spot is cured of its rottenness. What a specially designed way of kissing the floor to sickness? It appears we are all in a trance or have just decided to overlook the situation but our health is at stake as we all kiss the floor by what we eat daily. We are really at great risk with this level of ignorance and consuming food that do not meet minimum standards.

Even if the consumer is unhappy, in these days of dirt and selling on the ground all the way, there are not many options to buy from a clean space or from raised platforms but to simply become agents of kissing the floor. In recent times, our observation is that consumers are overlooking the situation of our everyday kissing of the floor but this ought not to be the case. After all, we pretend to be working by just talking which is the game plan for us these days. We hear of talk by agencies, individuals, policy makers, politicians, etc. of policies, programmes and strategies here and there about upholding the standards and technical regulations but we are still kissing the floor.

This act of kissing the floor is a breach of the law as well as any mandatory and voluntary standards anywhere. The Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851) prohibits the sale of food under unhygienic conditions when it stipulates in section 52 (1) that ‘A person shall not sell, prepare, package, convey, store or display for sale, food under insanitary conditions to the public.’ So, it is not permitted to display food under such unacceptable conditions. Indeed it is a real threat to our health and a continuous threat to Ghana’s socio-economic development.

The need to urgently address the issue by relevant institutions, policy makers and local governance bodies is imperative. Section 52 (2) of the same law spells it out by clearly declaring that ‘A person who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than one thousand penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not more than four years or to both.’ So what are law enforcers doing about this dangerous phenomenon bearing in mind the seriousness of the condition? Whose duty is it to protect and keep us safe? Definitely something must be done to rectify this state of affairs to protect consumer health and safety. This is of prior importance to all and sundry to advocate and resurrect our regulations which it appears a spell has been cast at.

The ideal is all we aspire to as a nation and it is in this light that we have trading standards for a market but the reality is contrary to acceptable regulations. For instance, sections 11 and 12 of the 1995 Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) bye–laws on public market operation specifically state the following;
‘’No occupier of any store in a market shall expose for any sale any bread, flesh, prepared grain food or any other articles of food unless the items are placed on a table or on a support raised at least one and half metres from the ground’’
‘’No article which is likely to be used for human consumption in the state in which it is exposed for sale shall be sold without adequate protection from dust, flies or other insects’’
So the above clearly states what ought to done but it appears we are all looking away and enthusiastically kissing the floor knowingly or unknowingly to the risk of our health. As a matter of fact upholding the regulations are not of urgency compared to the aggressiveness that market tolls are collected but no one seems to see the impact of these fees on our infrastructure and environment. Accordingly institutional effectiveness in law enforcement is almost non-existent and may be as guilty as offenders are left off the hook. The bye-law may need a review because selling above the ground is only a step which ought to be upgraded to include issues that would protect the consumer, guarantee the sale of quality and healthy products, certified food, among others. 

It is of utmost urgency for consumer health to be taken seriously so we have a population that would work to increase productivity. In Ghana where we have over 50 per cent of the population within the productive age the need to keep most people healthy is very essential. Accordingly, allowing this state of affairs to continue is enormously affecting our economic development. At this current state of affairs we need to improve our living standards and consume quality food. In a situation where people in their highest productivity levels are afflicted with such ailments it really does affect the economy and slows down development which we urgently need here and now. We cannot make any impact in global trade and development if we continue in this same line. At best we shall crush out and suffer the consequences of achieving no dream or target whatsoever. The need to adhere to voluntary and mandatory standards cannot be over emphasized in this era. It is also imperative to establish food certification and quality management systems in the sale of food.

The issues are there for all to see as we continue to kiss the floor by the minute and we must necessarily seek to rectify this awful situation. Ghana ought to ensure effective law enforcement of regulations of agencies like the Food and Drugs Authority and AMA Bye-Laws with no recourse to any reason why it cannot be implemented. Consumers are at risk and the time to act is now or never. Additionally, the development of policy initiatives, legislation, consumer education and prevention mechanisms are critical to our liberation from kissing the floor and to our survival. As a matter of urgency, government must demarcate waste preservation sites and establish effective waste treatment plants so rubbish could be properly managed. A sole waste management fund initiative is now long overdue to assist control and resolve this issue. Fact is, if we continue to tap the surface in our waste management, we will certainly bath in dirt and our appalling environment would remain unchanged. This would help manage the situation because without resources not much can be done and with better management of our resources we will slowly stop kissing the floor.

Government may need to re-consider the plastic waste issue because it seems to be the main challenge currently and may have to go back to paper carriers. It is also vital to stress that suitable packaging and labeling as well as appropriately shelving items may go a long way in assisting with the prevention of directly placing food on the ground so at least the phenomenon of directly kissing the floor is avoided.  In this state of an almost condition of nothingness, it is not surprising of the chaotic state of affairs with thrash jumping wherever with food items displayed right in the heart of it. 

We cannot say much more than we have already and others have because it appears we really do have a long way to go in our communities and daily ways of doing things. Consumer health, safety and the necessity to uphold standards and regulations are imperative to Ghana’s societal and human resource development. The need to create the necessary consumer awareness and disease prevention mechanisms cannot be over-emphasized. Law enforcement and prosecution of culprits have been reiterated in many different platforms or mediums and we need not scream it out again. Indeed this must be taken seriously and law enforcement agencies must ensure it is carried out now. Finally with almost no relevant facilities such as water, toilets, dustbins, and proper selling platforms among others sometimes it is absolutely difficult to do the right thing or avoid water borne diseases. Accordingly we must together work towards improving the state of affairs, meeting standards, and enforcing mandatory standards to completely halt the habit of kissing  the floor.

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