The "Working in Ghana" Project

Public Health Inspector

[Mr. Acheampong appears older than his 44 years. He has lived his entire life in the Upper East Region, and for the last 15 years has been a health inspector for the Public Health Service. He is married and has four children. The oldest two are in junior secondary school. Mr. Acheampong has only a middle school education, as his parents could not afford to maintain him in secondary school during his youth. He spoke with Philip Awekeya in his office.]

I started working to earn income at the age of sixteen as a messenger with the local District Administration. At first I liked the job because it was my first experience of working life and above all my first time of getting pay. I was happy with this first job during the first seven years, but this joyful period passed away because I started seeing some of my classmates completing teacher training, college and nursing and getting higher pay than me. I therefore felt left behind and began looking for a chance to go into an institution for further studies. I was lucky to have found a place in one of the country's three public health inspector training schools.

As a senior public health inspector my duties sometimes take me to the rural areas. I start work at 8 a.m. on days that I have duty in town, but I leave as early as 7 a.m. when I am to go on supervisory duties to the villages. Sometimes I am assigned duty at the slaughter house where I inspect meat before it is sold out to chop bar (eating place) owners and the general public. When I observe that a particular carcass is not fit for consumption, I order the meat be buried. I will, in fact, supervise the burial. If the owner of the animal doubts my claim that the meat is not suitable for consumption, I take some of it to the regional veterinary service laboratory for testing to substantiate my ruling. I also sometimes go around to individual residents and restaurants to inspect and educate people to keep their surroundings tidy. Many times I ask women who sell food in open places to provide screened covers for their prepared meats to prevent flies from contaminating it. As part of public education, I tell people of the dangers of not boiling drinking water taken from ponds, and of consuming dead animals without certification by a veterinary service or public health official. For instance, I tell them of the danger of becoming infected with anthrax when they eat uninspected meat of dead animals. It can cause their untimely death.

I take more pride in this job than in my previous one. In the first job, I only ran errands for the senior officers of the District Administration without getting any reward except my little pay. Now I get the opportunity to take meat home from the slaughter houses when I go there to inspect animals killed by the butchers to be sold to the public. In addition, I get the chance to know many people through visits to chop bars and houses. My earlier job limited me to the office.

There are, however, a number of problems and frustrations associated with the present job. For instance, unlike the good old days, the service now lacks basic materials essential for our efficient operation. Typical is the lack of uniforms to enable public health inspectors to identify ourselves when we are on duty. Besides the lack of uniforms, we are not supplied with Wellington boots, gloves, or even insecticides to disinfect slaughter houses and places where animals die of anthrax.

Worst of all, there are no by-laws passed by the traditional councils or the district assemblies backing our operations. Since there are no by-laws enforcing our functions in this region we depend largely on the good will of the public for the success of our daily assignments. The seeming lack of interest in our work by officials of the Traditional and District assemblies leads me at times to regret having gone for the health inspectors course and having been posted to work in a region where officials of some institutions of power fail to support us in the discharge of our duties.

There are chances to make friends on some visits, such as when I educate people on the need to keep their water pots clean and their environment tidy, and when I educate women who cook and sell food to go for medical check-ups and to keep their places clean. But we run the risk of increasing the displeasure and hate of some butchers in the performance of our duties. Many a time butchers become angry with us when we declare some of their carcasses unsuitable for sale to the public. It can happen that a butcher will kill two or three animals and all of them are unfit for human consumption. When this happens a number of times we are threatened by the butchers. The fact that there is no official backing for our activities, coupled with the dangers posed by butchers on our lives, we sometimes find it hard to carry out our task efficiently. Thus our performance quite often falls below national standards, leading the public to accuse us of poor performance, especially when there is an outbreak of disease such as cholera or anthrax.

It seems to me that there are few workers in this town who enjoy cordial working relationships with their supervisors. I say this because most people I meet in pito houses (drinking places) and market places complain about the harshness of their bosses. However, I am fortunate to have a good supervisor who is about the same age as I and who treats me like a colleague. He has time to listen to my personal problems, and to suggest suitable solutions. My relationship with co-workers is quite cordial. So far I have not had cause to feel dissatisfied with any of my colleagues' behavior. I always feel warm and secure with them.

Though there are chances for me to advance in my job I need to obtain G.C.E.--ordinary level credits in four subjects. To some of my colleagues this is a big problem but to me it is not because I am capable of passing the ordinary level examination. I am convinced I will be admitted for further courses which will pave the way for my promotion to the top non-graduate grade position in the Public Health Service.

Since high pay and attractive working conditions go with higher academic qualification in this country, I understand why my pay is not very attractive. I receive just enough to keep my family and myself alive. In order to make up financially I do a little farming and animal rearing after work and on week ends.

On the whole, my family seems to like the work I do, because I sometimes bring meat when I go to inspect the slaughter house. At times too, I return to the house with a fowl or eggs when I visit the rural areas on supervisory duties. Through this work I get the chance to make friends with many people. Some of them have given me financial assistance in hard times, thereby saving me from embarrassments.