It is not out of place for people in Ghana to say they have “apollo”. Usually during the rainy season, some people contract conjunctivitis which manifests as redness, swelling and general irritation of the eye. Many Ghanaians call seasonal conjunctivitis as apollo eye disease, which is a very interesting name because both words are hardly related. Why do Ghanaians call it Apollo? Let us find out.

How is Apollo Eye disease caused?

Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis is the medical name for the disease condition. It is caused by a virus called Enterovirus 70. Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids.

The symptoms of the condition include swelling of the affected eye, redness, discharge, crusting and itching. It is communicable and can be easily transmitted by sharing materials such as towels, handkerchiefs, glasses. Also, when one engages in a handshake with an infected person, there is a higher probability for the transmission of the virus when the non-infected person rubs their eyes.

The disease is one of those that usually clears up in a few days to a few weeks. It cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed with artificial tears, certain antiviral eye drops, cold compresses, washing the eyes with cold water, taking painkillers depending on how severe the pain and discomfort gets. In most situations however, it goes away on its own.

To prevent the disease, one would have to avoid using the personal items of infected persons, as well as wash the hands very frequently or use hand sanitizers. Infected children would have to be quarantined since they easily spread it to other kids.

The association of seasonal conjunctivitis and the Space Race

The infection was first documented in Ghana in the year 1969 in the month of July. The outbreak was first documented in Accra probably due to the fact that it was the capital city and there was a lot of immigration, making it a more cosmopolitan place.

When World War II ended, there arose intense competition between the United States of America and the former Soviet Union. The competition was to see which was the superior nation in terms of war machinery and power. Soon the competition turned into what we call the Space Race.

The Apollo 11 mission to the moon

This Space Race had its origins in the nuclear arms race, with each country trying to outdo the other by producing and showing superior technologies which had more destructive power. In 1961, the Soviets were the first to get a satellite called ‘Sputnik’ into space, and then also got the first man into Space called Yuri Gagarin.

So, the whole world stood in awe of Russia. A month later, an American man called Alan Shepherd also went to space to orbit the earth but since Russia was the first to go to space, some people actually considered Russia to be superior.

This drove the Americans to move their ambitions up a notch – to do something that has never been done before; something that will surprise all of humanity. They settled on the moon. They decided that they will be the first nation to send people to the moon. The American President who led these efforts was called John F. Kennedy.

On 16th July 1969, after a lot of planning and preparation, the spacecraft blasted off earth and began a journey into space. Every step of the way had been carefully planned and calculated. The spaceship used for this mission was named Apollo 11 – after a Greek and Roman god of archery, sun and light.

Neil Armstrong was the lead of the team of astronauts that undertook this mission to the moon. It took 3 days for the spacecraft to touch down on the moon. This was a very momentous occasion that surprised humanity and man’s first steps on the moon was recorded and televised live. Millions of people watched the live broadcast while many more listened to commentary via their radio sets worldwide.

1969, the first outbreak of Apollo Eye Disease

Ghana was not exempted. 1969 was 12 years after Ghana had gained independence and the head of State then was called Joseph Ankrah, an army General. He was the head of the military junta at the time. Many Ghanaians listened to commentary rather than watch it on Television because electricity was mainly only in the urban towns and many people were not well-to-do enough to afford a television set.

It was that same year the conjunctivitis became apparent. It was the first of its kind and was a new disease. It spread fast and many more people were showing symptoms of irritated, swollen and red eyes.

People started speculating that probably God was angry because man had gone to the moon, and that is why He has brought this kind of affliction to the world. Others also thought that it was the spacecraft that was sent to the moon (Apollo11) that had brought the disease from the moon.

They reasoned that the disease did not exist here until after just going to the moon, so it is very likely the spacecraft had brought the disease from the moon. So, some people decided to blame the spacecraft for bringing the disease.

Ghana’s literacy rate was not as high as today and so many people did not understand the importance of the moon expedition and this led to a lot of uninformed speculation. Since then, many Ghanaians started to informally call the disease as ‘Apollo” and the name got stuck. To this day, many Ghanaians refer to conjunctivitis as Apollo.

The impact of immigration was also felt as the description of the disease became popular in neighboring Nigeria where they also experienced the same occurrence in Ghana. People who moved to Nigeria took the disease with them and they also started to call it Apollo.