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Frequent diarrhoea forces villagers to own toilets

Written by  Memory Chatonda
Mhango appreciating hand washing facility, Pic by Memory Chatonda -Mana Mhango appreciating hand washing facility, Pic by Memory Chatonda -Mana

Blantyre, March 19, 2020: In open gutters, water bodies, behind bushes and many other places, people in villages under Senior Chief Ngabu in Chikwawa found relief to excrete. 

However, the act brought them into conflict with communicable killer diseases. Every year, many people suffered from diarrhoea due to poor basic sanitation and hygiene practices.

“Many cases of diarrhoea were recorded in my area with children mainly falling victim. At first, I could not trace the cause but later discovered that 69 in every 100 households did not have a toilet.

“They were hiding behind bushes around their homes to relieve themselves,” says Senior Chief Ngabu.

While open defecation figures are declining in countries world over, the number of people finding relief outdoors each year is rising across sub-Saharan Africa, including Malawi.

The case of Senior Chief Ngabu mirrors many other cases in Malawi. Out of the 13 villages under his jurisdiction, almost 69 households in every 100 had no toilet, a tool for basic sanitation.

According to the United Nations, the figures have increased in countries south of Sahara from 204 million people practicing open defecation in 2000 to 220 million in 2015.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) emphasises that having proper sanitary facilities is one way of ensuring that community members live in safe environments, free of avoidable ailments usually triggered by viruses and bacteria.

In fact, it is a human right to have sanitary facilities like toilets, an initiative backed by UNICEF which is determined to end open defecation by 2030.

Ngabu’s concern over increasing diarrhoea infections in children is backed by World Health Organisation’s (WHO) observation that in countries where open defecation is widespread, the mortality rate of under-fives is high.

The WHO also estimates that inadequate sanitation results in 432,000 diarrhoea-related deaths annually and that it is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma.

Moved with the situation, Malawi adopted the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) in 2008 with the aim of creating the country as an Open Defecation Free (ODF) by promoting sanitation and hygiene among communities.

According to Ministry of Health and Population, CLTS is in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 6.2 aimed at reducing and preventing sanitation-related diseases which account for 52 per cent of all out-patients in health facilities.

This forces Senior Chief Ngabu to dedicate his time and work with heath surveillance assistants (HSAs) and other non-governmental organisations such as World Vision Malawi to sensitise communities on the importance of constructing and using toilets.

“I joined forces with World Vision and HSAs to ensure that within a short period every household in my area has a decent toilet to prevent the vicious cycle of disease and poverty.

“To enforce the good practice, I initiated bylaws to punish non-compliance of the law,” Ngabu says.

Today, Ngabu area is among six out of 11 traditional authorities in Chikwawa District that have attained ODF status.

“Today, every household in my area has proper sanitary facilities of a toilet with a drop-hole cover and proper hand washing facility.

“As a result, we are no longer registering cases of diarrhoea, let alone, cholera that occur due to poor sanitation and hygiene,” he says.

Chikwawa District Council Chairperson David Chado expresses delight to note that the area is practicing good sanitation and hygiene.

“We believe that no country can develop in all areas if people have no good sanitary facilities like toilet; hence, championing ODF to improve quality of life,” Chado says.

He calls on other traditional leaders to emulate the example set by Senior Chief Ngabu.

“Others should learn and understand the importance of having sanitary facilities such as toilets and putting them to proper use to prevent communicable diseases,” Chado says.

World Vision Malawi (WVM) Director of Programmes Charles Chimombo commends all people who contributed to Senior Chief Ngabu’s success by ensuring that the area has improved sanitary practices.

Chimombo says WVM has so far ensured that households in six out of 11 traditional authorities in Chikwawa have toilets as well as access to clean and potable water by constructing and renovating boreholes.

Former Minister of Health and Population Jappie Mhango recently advised traditional leaders to continue encouraging their subjects to have sanitary facilities to improve health well-being of people.

“I applaud Chief Ngabu for joining other 117 out of 263 traditional authorities that have attained the same ODF status in the country. This is a sign that that Malawi is making headway in ending open defecation.

“Let me emphasise that government and its development partners are committed towards improving sanitation as well as hygiene practice to achieve SDG number 6.2,” said Mhango when he visited Ngabu’s area.

Current statistics from the Ministry of Health on sanitation and hygiene status in Malawi indicate that latrine coverage is at 86 per cent, hand washing facility is at 36.4 per cent while the percentage of improved sanitation is at 40.6.

Malawi Environmental Health Affairs President Elias Chimulambe says much as Malawi is making strides in ensuring that communities improve sanitation and hygiene practices, there is need to step up community sensitisation campaigns on the same.

“Based on Health Sector Strategic Plan ll for 2017 to 2022, there is slow progress in attaining ODF status in the country. This is due to natural disasters and poverty levels.

“As a country, we need to do more in sensitising people on the importance of having proper toilets and hand washing facilities,” Chimulambe says.

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