Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Slaughter House Blues

Recently, a highly successful news story aired on the atrocious state of the 45 year old Sekondi-Takoradi abattoir. The story, produced by a young journalist at SKYY, calls for immediate action by local authorities. With no action yet taken, a follow-up story needs to be produced focussing on the health implications of using such a filthy slaughter house. The reporter agrees, and soon we're granted an interview with the environmental health inspector for the regional authority responsible for the abattoir.

We meet at the slaughter house, and it is in rough shape. Vultures circle overhead, sit atop the roof, and hop around the grounds seeking meat. A vulture even hops up the stairs and onto the killing room floor. The building is dilapidated, with windows covered in tattered mesh screens. The floor is rough, unfinished concrete. An open gutter runs down the centre, dark water flowing through. Meat hooks hang from the ceiling. A man lays asleep on a bench.

We begin the interview, asking the health inspector to respond to allegations made by the chairman of the local butchers association that the abattoir employs only one person to clean the entire building. He says no, they have a team of men who do the job. They make the place very clean, everyday. I ask if the cleaning crew uses bleach or some other form of disinfectant. He says no, they scrub the slaughter house floor with a brush broom and ground water each day, and we can see for ourselves just how they do it.

We enter the main room and see the charred carcasses of two goats laying on the floor. A man cleans them with water, the water spills into the gutter and is carried outside. Further along we see two men in rubber boots, one with a brush broom, the other with a bucket. I see some blood and fat laying on the ground and the environmental health inspector calls for a cleaning. With a slap of a bucketful of water hitting the ground, the man with the broom begins sweeping the debris into the gutter. They continue to the end of the room, and no visible biological material remains.

I ask the inspector some of the challenges he faces in his job. He mentions a lack of disinfectants and asks S.A.E.M.A., the regional body in charge to provide them. I follow up with the question of where the waste water goes, and he responds, through the gutter and straight into the sea.

The tour ends and we capture some cutaways of the building, the grounds and two goats tied up, waiting. I try to get the vultures circling over head, but am dizzied by the attempt.

The next stop is an interview with the Deputy Director of Ghana Health Service in the Western Region, responsible for public health. She tells us that the slaughter house is a well known problem. In fact, SKYY Television produced a feature story in April of this year in which she was able to detail many of the problems. Her participation in the story even elicited praise from the local butchers association.

Dr. Linda Vanotoo tells us of the myriad of problems Takoradi faces with the poor sanitary conditions of the slaughter house. Bacterial growth, spread of infections and disease, sickness, death and hospital bills that can be avoided with some preventative medicine in the form of a new, modern abattoir. When asked specifically about the management of waste water, or lack thereof, Dr. Vanotoo replies that if this water comes into contact with any water used by people, for drinking, cooking or cleaning, serious problems can arise.

Her comments give us an opening into the next follow up story in the series. A call to the Environmental Protection Agency will follow. For now, the story goes with a call for action by S.A.E.M.A., mandated by law to be responsible for the management of meat processing. A bill proposing national meat inspection standards died in process in 1994. The responsibility is downloaded to local government. The results of that downloading are made clear by the standards found in Takoradi.

With continuing pressure on the local government, change can and will occur in Takoradi. The fact that S.A.E.M.A. works with a limited budget to cover expansive public services cannot be the determining factor in this case. Individuals and communities have the right to demand that their health and well-being are protected. When preventative action can save the public from undue harm, why wait until the damage becomes too great to ignore.

1 comment:

Kate said...

i heart public health!