In Ghana, prolonged loud noise is perhaps the most common cause of sleep deprivation, noise induced hearing loss and major health issues.In fact, sleep deprivation itself can be lethal.  If we do not take radicaltimely measures to remedy our noise pollution, Braille may be our next official language.

This year, 2019,His ExcellencyNana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo will make an absolutely stunning decision.  He willgrant Ghanaian citizenship to more than 200 Diasporan Repatriates. To sustain his biological and psychological equilibrium for all his efforts, he and his administration will needregular rejuvenating sleep.  The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ghana Investment Promotion Authorityhave revved up their efforts during this historic year. Their staff will need restorative sleepas will the tourists, investors and business owners they seek to attract. 

So what is the problem in Ghana?  Why are so many of us not getting consistent quality sleep?  Noise is the problem.Noise pollution in Ghana is virtually everywhere. Even beneficial “power naps” on public transportation can be interrupted by the embarrassing blight of ambush-style “holy noise” or blaring radios.  Moreover, noise pollution is not properly regulated. Educative public service announcements on the matter are virtually nonexistent.

To conduct your own investigations, simply download a noise meter app on your phone or iPad. Of course, you can also purchase an actual noise meter. Take measurements of noise whenever you notice it. (If you notice noise, it’s a good indicator that there’s a problem with volume.)  Over the past three years, the noise meter app on my phone has frequently measured 70-83 decibels (dBAs) in a variety of locations.

The end result of hearing loss creates a whole new set of societal burdens.  “Hearing loss makes a large contribution to the global burden of disease, which substantially adversely affect [sic] social and economic development in communities and countries.”  In 2013, the Korle-Bu study reviewed the records of 715 patients and found that 474 or 66.3% had “significant hearing loss.”  

A 2017 analysis examined 18 qualifying studies on hearing loss in Ghana.  It found that hearing impairment was higher in adults, more frequent in women and more common among people in “noisey [sic] environments”.  A 2006 study conducted on 6,428 patients at an ear, nose and throat clinic in Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital found that 89% or 5,784 were diagnosed as having “significant hearing loss”.  Noise was at the top of the list of major causes followed by disease, infections and genetics. 

Everyone knows that the number one medical advice is to get plenty of rest.  However, sleep deprivation has a long list of serious medical problems of its own. Prolonged sleep deprivation: accelerates aging, impairs reason and problem solving, increases risk for hypertensive heart disease (2017 No. 1 cause of all deaths in Ghana*), causes chronic fatigue, leads to heart attack, suicidal thoughts and high blood pressure.  Sleep deprivation can bring about respiratory problems, stroke, digestive problems, hormone disruption, seizures, fertility problems,diabetes and raise stress levels.  It cancause depression, plummet sex drive, worsen vision problems, slow wound healing, causeweight gain and increase the likelihood of early death. 

Faith communities are not immune.  The premise that a divine entity condones noise pollution and its harmfulness in favor of proselytization, indoctrination and worship questions the sanity of that premise.How can converts be peacemakers if they are disturbing it?  How can they presume to heal humanity if they’re harming it?

Noise induced sleep deprivation is a unique threat to youngsters and elders. Elders, very young children and sick people need more sleep than the rest of us.  For example, elders and youngsters are more vulnerable to diseases like malaria.  Sleep deprivation makes it more difficult for them to recover, because it affects immune functioning.  A sleep deprivedhealthy elder can develop dementia. Sleep deprivation can stunt growth in children. Consider this: children’s skulls are thin and cannot buffer sound well.One can only imagine what they must endure when they have ear infections and are subjected to prolonged loud noise.

In the business sector, sleep deprived employees make devastating and costly mistakes.  Traffic injury, death and property damage is in the hundreds of billions annually.  Sleep deprivation plays a significant role in hospital medical errors. Sleep deprivation was a factor in the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill, the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown and more. 

The World Health Organization states that noise is a “leading environmental nuisance…” and that it is a “… underestimated threat that can cause a number of short and long-term health problems”.The third Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits sleep deprivation among prisoners of war.  A 2014 UN Torture Report condemned sleep deprivation among detainees as a form of torture.  The Canadian Armed Forces Law of Armed Conflict Manual specifically prohibits sleep deprivation as“… Methods which are more subtle but have a harmful psychological effect are equally prohibited. Sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation… are also prohibited.”

Noise pollution is a global problem.  An international assessment tool,The Worldwide Hearing Index, was created by Mimi Hearing Technologies GmbH.  Mimi analyzed the hearing test results of 200,000 of its digital hearing app users.  Their results were combined with the WHO’s noise pollution statistics and similar information from SINTEF, one of Europe’s largest independent research firms.  The combined information was used to plot noise pollution in 50 cities.

What are “safe” decibel levels?  The general scientific and medical consensus is 55 dBAs.  The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) says 70-decibels is safe.The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) has developed a workforce “Noise standard” (29 CFR 1910.95).  It requires employers to have a “hearing conservation program” for workers who are exposed to 85 dBAs or higher over an 8-hour work shift. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a more conservative stance.  It recommends limiting the eight hour exposure to less than 85 dBAs. NIOSH also suggests that at 100 dBAs, exposure should be less than 15 minutes daily.  This is shocking given that the typical noise level of many nightclubs is measured at 110 dBAs.

Here in our beloved Ghana we must strategically mobilize to unapologetically educate and quiet noise makers. A healthier, more sustainable and a more globally competitive Ghana needs consistent quality sleep. In honor of and in gratitude to the many before me who have championed this cause: Let my people sleep!!

Carnita M. Groves

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