Tue February 11, 2014
Gone to Ghana: Answering Your Questions
My two-week visit to Ghana has come to an end. I was in the West African country with a program through the U.S. State Department and the International Center for Journalists.
The exchange program brought journalists from Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya to the U.S. Then, a group of American journalists is visited those African countries. I'm grateful I was chosen to visit Ghana and in my short time there I learned much about the people and culture.
Along the way, I invited you to send me questions about things you'd like to know about Ghana. Here are the answers to a few of your questions:
How do Ghanaians Handle the Heat?
There is not a summer and a winter in Ghana because the country is close to the equator. The average temperature in January is just about five degrees higher than in July (81 degrees Fahrenheit versus 77 degrees Fahrenheit). So it's fair to say Ghanaians are used to the hot weather.
Despite the heat, many men wear long-sleeved dress shirts and dress slacks to work. Most taxis and shared vans (called tro tros) don't have or don't use AC. People just roll the windows down and sweat it out. There are also people selling ice water in plastic bags on every major street corner.
Many of the buildings I've been in have wall unit air conditioning. The rule is that you close the door to each room to keep the cool air in. Most buildings are made with concrete walls and tile floors to keep them cool and many also have an open area in the middle to let the breeze in.
Are There Water Problems in Ghana?
Definitely. Access to clean and reliable water sources is one of the biggest issues throughout the country. Even in the capital city of Accra, there are occasional outages. One radio station I visited while there did a story about the biggest hospital in the area being completely out of water — a particular concern that has apparently been addressed at the moment.
There are also growing concerns about the supply of clean water. Galamsey (illegal small-scale mining for gold) is polluting local water sources because the process uses mercury and/or cyanide. And an Accra-area lagoon — the Korle Bu — is one of several that has been littered with trash.
In more rural areas, people often drink the same water that cattle bathe and defecate in — leading to the spread of illnesses and disease.
What is the Healthcare System Like?
Ghana has had its own version of "Obamacare" for more than a decade. According to the NHIS — or National Health Insurance Scheme -- website: "Every person resident in Ghana other than Armed Forces of Ghana and the Ghana Police Service shall belong to a health insurance scheme licensed under this Act."
There's a once a year premium that ranges between the equivalent of about $3 to $20 depending on income. The government says the program covers "over 95% of disease conditions that afflict us" — including labor & delivery and emergency care. The NHIS is seen as a model for healthcare in Africa. Other African countries, including Burkina Faso, have sent delegations to Ghana to study the system.
While NHIS is guaranteed to every citizen, there are some problems with access to care. Many wealthier Ghanaians prefer to purchase private health insurance because it gets them to the front of long lines. While I've been in Ghana the last few weeks there have also been reports of hospitals associated with NHIS not having access to medicine because of a disagreement with a pharmacy group.
Does the Ghanaian Government Support the Arts?
Somewhat. The country has a pretty impressive National Theatre in the capital city of Accra and a second National Theatre is being built in the second most populous city of Kumasi. I was also told that two governmental departments — the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Arts -- were recently combined. From the department's website, it looks like tourism, not arts, is the main focus. Though the Minister did recently announce an effort to encourage city workers to take native dance classes after work and on weekends for stress relief.
What's the Music Like in Ghana?
Of course there's an underlying tradition of local and native music and song. But on the radio, you're more likely to hear highlife, hiplife or popular American/European music. Highlife is a combination of traditional music and western influences such as jazz. It first became popular in the 1900s and is still much-loved. But many younger Ghanaians prefer hiplife — it's a mix of West African rhythms and hip hop.
As far as Western music on the radio — I've heard everything from Michael Jackson and Rhianna to Shania Twain. But I've had a hard time explaining "folk" music to Ghanaians. I hope to bring back a mix of music to share with the DJs at KUTX!
What's the Food Like?
It's good! Spicy in most cases — with cayenne pepper and black pepper sauce called Shito. The main sources of protein include beef, chicken and fish — especially red fish, tilapia and grouper. And the main sources of starch include rice, yams and cassava root prepared in various ways. There's a major debate going on in the Ghanaian government over whether to allow genetically modified food (GMOs) to be grown in Ghana.
If there's something you still want to know about Ghana, send me an email with your question. You can also follow my journey on twitter — @LauraRiceKUT.