Thursday, 10 September 2015

Disturbing treatment of the disabled in Ghana. Sophie Morgan Investigates.

Sophie Morgan, a young disabled journalist who was disabled from the chest down in a car accident who has heard rumours of awful treatment of Disabled people overseas and goes to see a representative of Human Rights Watch, an international Charity who investigates the way people with mental and physical disabilities are treated and thought of overseas, when Sophie asks where the worst place to be disabled is, the woman says without much Prevarication,Ghana. Having made the very best of her own disability she is passionate about disabled rights.

Sophie packs herself and her willing Brother Tom to act as bag carrier and general assistant and flies out to Ghana. A nation on West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, it is known for diverse wildlife, old forts. A centre of the slave trade and home of  vast Kakum National Park which has a treetop-canopy walkway over the rainforest. They have a stable government system with no civil unrest and they are financially sound thanks to rich resources of Gold, Cocoa and Oil. Sounds idyllic right? For the able bodied perhaps, but for the disabled it is a totally different story. 

It is estimated that two and a half million people are disabled in Ghana and the bitter truth is that for most the only way to obtain any income at all, is to beg on the roadside. Eighty percent  of the disabled in Ghana live below the Poverty line. One of the most prevalent areas for begging in Accra is on the Airport Road. Here Disabled folk are whizzing in between cars on their crutches, in wheelchairs or on little wheeled boards. As Sophie acquired her disablement from a car crash, she is uncomfortable in heavy traffic in normal circumstances, but this makes her uneasy to see so many folks risking further injury for so little financial reward. 

She meets twenty four year old Adamson who does not have the use of his legs and has been begging for ten years. On a bad day Adamson cannot afford a taxi home, earning the equivalent of about £2 would be ten times too little so Sophie decides to go with Adamson to go to try to get a bus. Three buses deny them access, despite Sophie telling them that the wheelchairs fold down.  

Adamson takes Sophie to the place where he sleeps. It is  in the market place where for a small sum, friend holds and sets up a basic tent structure for him to sleep inside, he has barely any belongings, only a sleeping bag, torch and his well thumbed Bible. His faith in Christ sustains him through his difficulties as at five thirty,he has to leave again or he is physically assaulted, but he states this existence is still better than the one in the countryside where he was from.

Sophie decides to go out into the rural areas to see how disabled people fare in village life and meets thirty year old Francis whose wizened legs have prevented him from leaving his room for fifteen years! When he is brought out he is so distressed that Sophie decides to conduct the interview in his room. Sparse and depressing Francis says he cannot leave unless someone helps him. Sophie asks him if he is alone and he says no,my is friends come to talk to him, but it suddenly becomes apparent that  he is being fed answers by a family member, with Tom standing sentinel, he says his family and tell him he is hopeless and no use and so has been abandoned and why he is held prisoner in his room for over a decade.

Sophie is touched by Francis as she had to spend two years on bed rest during her recuperation herself and knows how reliant she had been on friends and family and they were willing. Here Francis is an outcast in his own community. So very sad. Sadder still that it is estimated that half a million disabled people are confined.

There is no free medical care in Ghana so most of the good work is done by Charitable organisations like a the National Catholic Health Service who treat people with physical disabilities, but as Sophie discovers the medical route is actually the last resort after spirit healing and people are being asked for  up to £200 per visit, she meets a mother and her son who have been seeking answers for nine months. Once x rayed the doctors at the health centre realise they could have given much more effective treatment nine months previously and now correcting the hip misalignment will be much harder and less effective.

The traditions and huge spiritual component of Ghanaian life is a hard thing to combat. Massive billboards advertise miraculous cures to a whole host of complaints. There is more faith  in their healers than modern medicine and the concept of witches curses are prevalent where Feelings of Hope take priority over medical intervention, so Sophie decides to go see a healer, she is met by a nice man called Justice who tells her that the large complex houses the sixty people who come through their gates daily. The registration form is a revelation in itself, it basically gives a legal entitlement to practices that would be unacceptable in any kind of church healing in this country. 

Justice is the person showing her the facility He says he thinks it is possible that Sophie herself has been cursed by someone jealous of her resulting in her disablement. However when Sophie and the crew want to meet some of the clients seeking healing, they are denied access and ultimately leave without seeing anyone who can speak to the practices being carried out there.

They manage to find another centre that does not seem so organised  and run unusually by a Muslim Healer Madame Irene. Most healing is predominantly by Christian Healer. On arrival Sophie is disturbed by the sound of screaming, their guide at first claims it is a loud television but it soon becomes obvious that a young girl and her mother are very upset. The child may  or may not have mental health issues it it seems the herbal mixture given to the child was not to her liking. The mother is desperate and has paid 200 cedis per visit for healing.

Whilst there Sophie sees many people chained and she questions one young man who states his family placed him there against his will saying he was mentally ill and he had been chained ever since, sleeping, eating and going to the toilet in the one room. He asks Sophie to intercede on his behalf so he might be allowed a shower and clean clothes.

Before Sophie can speak to Madam Irene she witnesses her treatment first hand. a chained  patient is forced to drink a herbal mixture and slapped for no doing it without hesitation. Irene avoids Sophie's questions saying that restraint prevents mental patients from running away and misbehaving. When pressed she just drives away.

Her assistant is more forthcoming and when asked  where all the young children are that are admitted he intimates that the children are inhuman, with deformities , cursed beings and so after some treatment that young children are sent back to the spirits at the River sometimes it takes hours and sometimes days, that parents bring their disabled youngsters and for a fee they are disposed of. When asked Madame Irene States all she does is perform the rituals, the spirits take the Children back.

Sophie is appalled and meets with a welfare worker  Mr Barimah willing to take her to the River where disabled children are killed. That it was common on Tuesdays and Thursdays for tiny children to be fed drops of schnapps with poison added. It seems they fit and convulse and eventually die before being thrown into the water, a warning shot fired off to tell the River that the child is returned to them. All of this sanctioned and paid for by parents.  They find debris from fresh schnapps at the site.

Sophie needs to know what kind of person would do this so makes an appointment to meet with a fetish priest, the people who carry out the killings. He demands a fee of £40 and two bottles of schnapps for a consultation to cure her disablement. The frightening thing is the clients are supplier the carrier for the poison that kills the child. It is utterly chilling, he states the children turn into snakes or other animals. 

After looking evil and darkness directly in the eye, Sophie falls ill, needing IV fluids and realising just how grateful she is for her life in the UK and her access to healthcare and rehab.

Returning to see Mr Barimah , she finds his school is doing marvellous things. He educates and trains disabled children in different skills. Dressmaking and tailoring, shoemaking and leatherwork or agriculture, livestock and poultry and in the twenty five years he has been working with them 1500 children have graduated. Here she meets Charles, a seventeen year old who has been working with Mr Barimah for seven years and he wants to be a doctor. His enthusiasm is so infectious and at last there is some positive news. All the funding comes from Mr Barimah and his fundraising efforts. 

She also returns to the Catholic Mission and meets little Blessing, a beautiful little three you old girl whose disability would have meant Death had she stayed with her parents.

Sophie goes to the Ghanaian government and the minister there admits that despite the disability act being quite a good policy document that the government had done little to implement it, that education is key to remove the stigma attached to disability but not enough has been invested in giving people that education, that prosecutions are hard because there are so many collaborators including the parents and he concedes that Ghana may indeed be the worst place in the world to be disabled.

Sophie ends her visit by joining Adamson at a skate football game where the locals are well entertained and enjoy the frenetic nature of the game, a ray of light for Adamson and his pals showing that disability is not a lack of life or vigour and just needs adaptation to success.

All in all a truly disturbing documentary, but thankfully Sophie can leave knowing that there are good people fighting for the children and adults,  who understand their worth and value. 

The sad denouement to the show was this photo  shown in the titles sequence and one wonders just how this tragic end came to poor Francis, whether he was finally just neglected too long or some illness took him in his weakened state.May He Rest In Peace


  1. Ugh this is so incredibly sad & I had no idea that anyone in the world was killing disabled children... It seems so prehistoric . Good job writing it, Emma!

  2. It is so terrible that the disabled are treated like this in this day and age. But we aren't aware of how things are in other countries. I'm glad that you brought it to light, great job Emma.