Capacity-building partnership in occupational and environmental medicine in Ghana; Government and federal state pilot programme
Population growth, rising levels of prosperity and changes in consumer behaviour are generating increasing volumes of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) in Ghana. However, the country does not have an efficient waste and recycling sector that can recycle and dispose of this waste in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. As a result, improper reclamation and disposal of e-waste by the informal sector is causing substantial environmental damage and endangering the health of the Ghanaian population. However, e-waste reclamation is a vital source of income for poorer population groups working within the informal sector.
The Old Fadama e-waste dump in Accra – known around the world as ‘Agbogbloshie’ – symbolises informal e-waste recycling and is one of the world’s ten most polluted sites. Without any protection, untrained employees dismantle e-waste to reclaim the valuable metals it contains. What cannot be sold on is incinerated on site, polluting the soil, groundwater, rivers and sea with heavy metals and other environmental pollutants. These pollutants then find their way into the food chain via the cattle, goats and chickens that roam free in these areas. The risks to health and to the environment receive little attention in Ghana, however, not least because the country lacks scientific expertise in environmental and occupational medicine.
Against this background, the aim of the project is to use technical cooperation between RWTH Aachen and the University of Ghana to develop practical skills in occupational and environmental medicine that will enable staff to produce robust analyses of risks to health in Ghana, recommend alternative options for action, and lay the foundations for sound political decision-making. This will support Ghana in making medium-term environmentally and socially sustainable use of the potential of labour-intensive processes within the circular economy as part of its efforts to combat poverty.
Building on the partnership between Ghana and North Rhine-Westphalia, the project is based on cooperation between the Department of Biological, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (BEOHS) at the University of Ghana’s School of Medicine and RWTH Aachen’s Institute of Occupational and Social Medicine, which is part of its Uniklinik. The cooperation project focuses on Ghana’s informal recycling sector and the risk it poses to human health and to the environment. To develop the technical skills to detect heavy metals within human organisms, an occupational and environmental medicine laboratory is being set up at BEOHS, and Ghanaian laboratory technicians are receiving practice-oriented training. Joint fieldwork is also taking place, and there is an academic exchange programme for lecturers and students to ensure the sharing of know-how between the University of Ghana and RWTH Aachen. A further measure is the creation of a health post to provide first aid for the victims of accidents and illnesses at Old Fadama. The health post also offers advice on preventive occupational health and safety.
To ensure that the project’s aims are met in the long term, it works closely with a BMZ-financed programme for sustainable management of E-waste in Ghana.
Partners and Stakeholders
- RWTH Aachen (Technical University of North Rhine Westphalia), Institute of Occupational and Social Medicine
- University of Ghana, Department of Biological, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences