When the dam was spilled: the reality of typhoid risk

The Akosombo Dam was constructed in 1965 to provide hydroelectric energy to the people of Ghana. The dam is fed by rainwater and the water levels rise with increased rain. Last October the dam reached its threshold, forcing the Volta River Authority, which oversees the dam functioning, to make a difficult choice between allowing the dam to overflow and break, or to spill the excess water to preserve the dam. The Volta River Authority chose to preserve the dam. The effect, however, meant the devastating displacement of more than 20,000 people who lived in low-lying areas within the Volta, Eastern, and Bono East Regions. Entire communities including homes, schools, farms, factories, churches, and health facilities were destroyed.

Communities at risk after flooding

The flood broke the water supply systems, mingling the safe household water with the content of broken septic tanks, burial grounds, refuse dumps, and other uncontained waste. The Ghana Medical Association expressed concerns about the potential for disease outbreaks, including cholera and typhoid, as a result of the flood. As entire communities grapple with makeshift housing and communities, they lost access to safe water and improved sanitation. Many lost access to trusted healthcare facilities, a concerning situation as typhoid diagnosis and treatment is difficult in any circumstances.

Despite relief efforts provided by people throughout Ghana, the heightened risk of disease remains. The dam flood, caused by excess rains, potentially a result of changing weather patterns, is a reminder that preventative tools are available to protect children and communities before they fall ill. Typhoid conjugate vaccines (TCV) are a safe, effective, single-dose vaccine that provides at least four years of protection against typhoid. If children in the impacted regions of Ghana had been vaccinated against typhoid (and other vaccine preventable diseases), the risk of falling sick would be one less concern for caregivers and communities.

Typhoid risk in Ghana and beyond

As the world grapples with the impact of climate change, including increased flooding and droughts, the impact of severe weather events such as the heavy rains in Ghana, are likely to continue to devastate communities globally. The communities most susceptible to the impacts of climate change are often those most at risk for typhoid and other enteric diseases. Preventative solutions are as important as ever, and TCV provides a proven solution to keep communities like those throughout Ghana protected against typhoid.

The impact of the dam spillage is likely to persist for months to come. Families need clean, drinkable water and food that has been safely prepared. Those who fall ill need access to care, but the financial and economic challenges of rebuilding a home and a life after being displaced make it difficult for people to access care or treatment. If typhoid transmission increases, there is the potential for increased drug-resistant strains to go untreated and cause severe illness. While global leaders work to combat climate change, it is important that local policymakers utilize the preventative solutions at hand, including TCV and access to improved WASH infrastructure.

Cover photo: Water pump in Ghana. Credit: TyVAC/Michael K. Mensah.