To reduce the negative effects of malaria in the workplace, Ghanaian company AGRICARE Limited recently partnered with the the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) funded Private Sector Malaria Prevention (PSMP) project of Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, to put malaria prevention on the company’s agenda.
In late July, AGRICARE provided two family-sized insecticide-treated nets for each of its 51 employees. Two weeks later on August 2, they distributed 200 more nets to households in the company’s catchment community (Tanoso), as part of its corporate social responsibility. At this time, the company also held malaria prevention seminars that sensitized employees and community audiences on malaria and how to prevent it.
A former subsidiary of Pfizer, AGRICARE is a poultry and livestock feed processing plant that has been operating in Kumasi, Ghana, since 1968.
During opening remarks of the company’s Malaria Safe seminar, AGRICARE Managing Director Mr. William Awuku Ahiadormey explained how they decided to invest in malaria prevention to reduce healthcare costs and the negative effects of malaria on productivity. “Reports on monthly staff visits to the hospital indicate that in some cases a staff person goes there three times a month just for malaria, and the costs to the company from malaria treatment alone amount to about 5,000 Cedis weekly,” he said. “We spend upward of 12,000 Cedis a month, or 144,000 Cedis a year on malaria treatment,” he said. According to Mr. Awuku Ahiadormey, 60-70% of cases in their medical reports are malaria.
Workers sick with malaria miss 2 to 3 days of work for each episode, Mr. Awuku Ahiadormey added, putting additional stress on other workers to fill the gaps. “When this happens, we are not working as productively as we could,” he said, citing that 40 instead of 50 tons of feed may then be produced. “And if we typically produce 60 tons of feed with 12 workers, and one of them is not there, this means 11 people are now doing the work of 12, so people are getting tired and not coordinating properly.” In that case, not only might they produce less, but they are also at a greater risk of causing more accidents.
Mr. Awuku Ahiadormey also speaks from experience, having “suffered slowly” with malaria while working. “This is also true for managers,” he said. “With malaria, your body needs to rest more, and this is not the best way to work,” he said.
Mr. Awuku Ahiadormey urged his employees to use their new treated nets. “Please sleep under the treated mosquito net, and please have your children sleep under the treated mosquito net.”
Interestingly, AGRICARE initially considered spreading the cost of their treated nets over several months; however, when they realized how little the costs actually were, they paid for the nets in full. “The cost of the nets equaled what the company pays in medical treatment for malaria in one week, so if these cases go down, you have recouped your costs and you will reduce costs overall.”
Also during the seminar, PSMP Chief of Party Felix Nyanor-Fosu explained that malaria is endemic in Ghana with all Ghanaians greatly affected by this disease. He provided technical and medical information about malaria prevention, and answered audience members’ questions.
Malaria is caused by a Plasmodium parasite carried by the Anopheles mosquito, Mr. Nyanor-Fosu said, noting that this particular species of mosquito is the only type that can carry the malaria parasite. The female mosquito needs human blood for egg production, and when the mosquito bites people for its blood meal, it picks up parasites from infected blood. Importantly, the Anopheles mosquito bites mainly at night whilst we are sleeping, so we need additional protection at night with an insecticide-treated net.
Mr. Nyanor-Fosu explained how the net works. The net is treated with a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide. The insecticide repels mosquitoes, so when mosquitoes try to feed on its victims, it picks up some of the chemical and becomes inactive. The treated net also serves as a physical barrier between a person and the mosquito, and using it reduces the number of mosquitoes in the room and the number of mosquitoes in our lives, said Mr. Nyanor-Fosu.
With malaria, “the company will suffer and you as individuals will suffer,” he said. “It puts stress on the family who will have to take care of you.”
Narrowing in on the physical toll of malaria, Mr. Nyanor-Fosu told audiences that malaria also affects the brain activity and academic performance of a child, so it is important that children under 5 to sleep under treated nets. More severely, malaria could also lead to convulsions and death. “This doesn’t happen because of ‘witchcrafts’ or ‘evil spirits’, but mainly due to malaria affecting the brain activity and bodily functions.” Pregnant women are also more vulnerable to malaria.
PSMP is a three-year project designed to catalyze the retail and workplace sectors in Ghana to ensure insecticide treated nets are available for all Ghanaians. Malaria Safe is a PSMP initiative that supports employers in Ghana to supply treated nets to employees and communities, and provide information on malaria prevention through sensitization seminars.