By Memory Kutengule:
Veronica Weruzani Scott vividly recalls how, four years ago she was forced to rush her daughter to Lambulira Clinic where she was diagnosed with diarrhoea.
“It was on February 27, when she came back from school complaining of abdominal pain and headache. At first, I thought it was just mere body pains.
“Since I had some painkillers, I administered Panado to ease her body temperature and relieve pain. Surprisingly, the situation changed from bad to worse a few hours later,” Scott explains.
She says Sphiwe, 10, complained of persistent abdominal pains and cramps.
“No sooner had I attended to her than she started vomiting and passing out watery stool,” recalls 43-year-old Scott of Mwambananji Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Chikowi in Zomba District.
She, together with her husband Dalitso, took Sphiwe to hospital for medical attention.
“Sphiwe was diagnosed with diarrhoea and the nurse on duty immediately administered Oral Rehydration Solution and gave us some drugs for Sphiwe to take upon arrival at home,” Scott says.
Her fear was justified because diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death in children according to the World Health Organisation.
It is estimated that the disease kills around 525,000 children every year globally.
In fact, diarrhoea can leave the body dehydrated and without salts that are necessary for survival within a short period, if left unchecked.
At the clinic, the nurse also enlightened the couple to practice good hygiene and sanitation to avoid the recurrence of the sickness.
“We were told to embrace the habit of washing hands with soap after visiting the toilet. We were also advised to wash fruits before eating and our hands before eating anything,” Scott says.
Elsewhere, Loveness Malonga, 30, from Bwana II Village in T/A Mlumbe shares similar sentiments.
Malonga, a mother of three, recollects how her second born Tamimu, 11, was treated for a worm infection at Namadidi Heath Centre at the age of six.
“My child had abdominal pain and sometimes complained of itching around the rectum. When I took him to hospital, I was told that it was worm infection and that poor sanitation and hygiene could be the possible cause,” Malonga explains.
She says the doctor prescribed an anti-parasitic medication to treat the worm infection, then advised her to teach the child basic hygiene.
Scott and Malonga are examples of families in the areas of T/As Ngwelero, Mwambo, Mlumbe, Kuntumanje and Chikowi in the district with similar experiences.
Concerned with the situation, in 2015, World Vision Malawi (WVM) started implementing a resilience project with support from World Food Programme (WFP), Malawi Government and United States Agency for International Development (USAid).
The project used the Food Assistance for Asset (FFA) creation approach in working with 29,056 households drawn from the five traditional authorities.
Its components include soil and water conservation, water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash), household development activities, construction of check dams and rehabilitation of community feeder roads.
Under Wash activities, FFA intervention encourages communities to have a package of household necessities.
The necessities include a backyard garden, kitchen, pit latrine, rubbish pit, energy-saving stove, bathroom, laundry line, thandala (traditional dish rack), and mpondagiya (locally made hand washing facility) close to the latrine.
Chisuzi Wash committee member, Dickson Masache, says prior to the introduction of the interventions in the area, WVM trained 44 members on how they could embrace Wash initiatives.
The training was aimed at increasing the levels of sanitation and hygiene to prevent waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea in T/A Chikowi.
“We started implementing basic household necessities and also encouraged others to do the same because this area was susceptible to diarrhoea, suffice to say that before the intervention, we used to record at least 27 cases every six months mostly in children, but this is all history now,” Masache says.
To this effect, he says, close to 1,300 households have adopted the basic necessities and are bearing testimony to Wash intervention.
“We are now used to washing hands with soap soon after visiting the toilet and before eating any food. This attitude has also been inculcated in our children,” he says.
FFA Community Champion in Group Village Head Mkanda in T/A Mlumbe, Maltida Chikoko, concurs with Masache, saying Wash intervention has greatly improved the well-being of communities including children.
“For instance, almost 1,490 households have backyard gardens in their respective homes courtesy of FFA.
“In these gardens, they grow different types of vegetables for household use and commercial gains. This has promoted the nutrition status of the communities,” she says.
WVM FFA Project Coordinator for Zomba, Wallace Givah, says the organisation is committed to uplifting the health status of communities including children through Wash and other initiatives.
“At least 29,056 households are practicing dietary diversification because they have gardens behind their homes,” Givah says.
He is also delighted that communities are eager to continue with Wash activities even after the phasing out of the project this year.
Ministry of Health and Population spokesperson, Joshua Malango, commends WVM for the Wash initiatives in communities.
He says the WVM’s initiatives are in line with government’s priorities as outlined in the Health Sector Strategic Plan ll for 20l7 to 2022.
Malango explains that the country’s current sanitation and hygiene status shows that latrine coverage stands at 86 percent, hand-washing facility at 36.4 percent while improved sanitation is pegged at 40.6 percent.
“In 2008, the ministry adopted the Community Led Total Sanitation approach with the aim of making the country open defecation free by promoting sanitation and hygiene in communities.
“This is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 of reducing and preventing sanitation-related diseases which account for 52 percent of all out-patients in the country’s health facilities,” he says.