The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has succeeded in reducing anaemia among adolescent girls in school to 19.5 per cent from a high rate of 25 per cent, through the Girls Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (GIFTS) Programme.
Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, the GHS Director of the Family Health Division, said the reduction has achieved after the girls were given weekly doses of Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) over a period of eight months.
Dr Kuma-Aboagye said this at a national dissemination of a baseline and follow-up survey of the GIFTS programme on Wednesday.
The GIFTS programme, he said, was currently being run in the Northern, Upper East, Brong-Ahafo and Volta regions in 91 districts, under which 1,448 junior, senior high, vocational and technical schools were reached, totalling more than 200,000 adolescent girls.
Dr Kuma-Aboagye said the rationale behind the programme was to improve the nutritional status, reduce anaemia and contribute to better academic performances of girls in school. He, therefore, indicated that the significant reduction in the level of anaemia among this group of girls was commendable as the country had not recorded such an achievement in the last 20 years.
Dr Anthony Nsiah Asare, the GHS Director-General, said the GIFTS implementation began in 2017 as a joint partnership with the Ghana Education Service, in collaboration with UNICEF, the Centre for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) and KOICA.
He said it was in response to the high anaemia levels of about 48 per cent among adolescents girls aged between 15 and 19 years. He acknowledged the great collaboration with all its stakeholders, stressing that the GIFTS programme was not only important as a nutrition intervention to directly impact the Sustainable Development Goals, but an enabler for health-related and other national goals.
Dr Nsiah Asare, however, said although the programme had been successful to a large extent, it had seen some implementation challenges such as misinformation and rumours that sometimes bordered on mischief with the potential to derail the implementation process.
The programme, he said, was one of several interventions being made to improve maternal nutrition, reduce the high rates of anaemia in adolescents and women of childbearing age and contribute to reduction in maternal mortality and morbidity.
Dr Nsiah Asare explained that the programme was guided by the WHO guidelines that recommended supplementation as part of a comprehensive action to address anaemia in countries with levels of 40 per cent and above.
He indicated that the momentum to improve adolescent health and development was being driven by the growing understanding that investments in adolescent health brought a triple dividend of benefits, for both now and future lives, and for the next generation.
The transformation that the nations desired for a prosperous Ghana and beyond aid would also be achieved, he said. Dr Nsiah Asare, therefore, solicited for media support in providing authentic information on the GIFTS to the public, and further implored all female students to take advantage of this great health intervention when the programme was scaled up to cover other areas of the country.
He said this offered a golden opportunity for them to have good health, stay alert, and remain in school to enhance their future productivity and prospects. Dr Yaw Addo and Dr Andrea Sharma, both consultants with the United States CDC, in a joint presentation on the survey and findings, said it was realised that most girls received more than 10 tablets during the period to help them build their iron store or recover lost blood, especially after their monthly menstruation.
He said although the Iron-Folic Acid supply chain remained strong throughout the period of the study, challenges such as the short duration of the programme (only eight months), low level of sensitisation, complains of teachers of it being time consuming, and issues of availability of potable water and cups must be addressed in the future scale up of the intervention.