Keeping familiar infections at bay
By Leah Malimbasa, contributor:
Sustained hygiene creates healthier communities while poor sanitation generates negative impacts on people’s lives.
That is why in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particular attention—in Goal Six—is paid to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all.
The goal further tackles ending open defecation by the end of this decade, paying distinctive attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
In Traditional Authority (T/A) Masasa in Ntcheu District, sanitation challenges were once widespread.
Communities without toilets in their backyards rushed to nearby bushes to relieve themselves.
The waste sometimes got washed into unprotected wells from where people would turn to fetch water for household use.
“As such, cases of diarrhoea and other sanitation-related illnesses were rampant in our community,” Gift Daveson says.
Globally, 25 percent of all deaths and 52 percent of the total disease burden are attributed to sanitation-related factors.
In Malawi, poor sanitation and unhygienic practices result in approximately 3,000 under-five deaths per year.
In the case of T/A Masasa, the sanitation and hygiene problems there attracted the kindness of World Vision Malawi (WVM), which is working with community members to end open defecation and promote sanitation in general.
“Now, there are few cases of diarrhoea. WVM enlightened us about the importance of practising good hygiene. Every household has a toilet and it is easier to prevent diseases,” Daveson says.
Masasa is one of the six
T/As in Ntcheu whose areas were declared open defecation free (ODF) earlier this month.
Deputy Minister of Health, Chrissie Kanyasho, duly certified the feat, which Daveson says was achieved following significant collaborations among chiefs and their subjects.
“In our community, there is a bylaw that compels everyone to have a toilet first before building a house,” he says.
According to Kanyasho, the Malawi Government adopted the community-led total sanitation initiative in 2008 with the aim of attaining ODF countrywide by promoting sanitation and hygiene in communities.
Its larger objective is to reduce sanitation-related diseases.
“The government is committed to improving sanitation and hygiene as a means of achieving SDG 6.2,” Kanyasho says.
T/A Masasa supports the need for stakeholders to join hands in doing away with sanitation-related harms.
“When one person falls sick, it affects countless people. As such, it is important to always maintain good hygiene,” the local ruler says.
Elsewhere in the country, ODF remains a big challenge, leading to the occurrence of preventable diseases.
WVM’s figures indicate that over 50 percent of Malawi’s population does not follow basic sanitation practices and that this mostly affects under-five children, who every so often suffer from diarrhoea.
Therefore, the humanitarian organisation notes, attaining ODF status is a significant milestone in sanitation.
“Since we stopped open defecation-free concept, we have seen a great change in the occurrence of cholera.
Thus, we dedicate most of our time to development activities,” Bertha Saulosi, from T/A Phambala in the potato-growing district, says.
T/As Phambala, Ganya, Masasa and Chakhumbira in Ntcheu join 145 other traditional leaders across the country whose areas have attained the ODF status.
In the district, WVM installed 59 water taps, drilled 226 boreholes and rehabilitated 144 others.
An additional 95,264 people gained access to clean water in 2020 alone.
WVM director of programmes, Charles Chimombo, says ODF is complemented by water supply; hence, the organisation’s decision to work with the government in ensuring all areas have clean water at their disposal.
However, Chimombo bemoans vandalism of the water facilities.
“We have donors who are giving us money but some of them are not necessarily rich people; they just have a big heart, so, we are urging community leaderships and beneficiaries to take ownership of the projects,” Chimombo pleads.
SDG six touches on many other goals. For instance, if a child falls sick due to poor hygiene, he or she will miss school to go to an already strained health facility, accompanied by a parent who has put his or her income-generating activities on hold.
And to deal with sanitation problems subsequently addressing several others— WVM embarked on behaviour change programming to promote the construction, maintenance and use of latrines or toilets in household, school and healthcare facilities.
Daveson and Saulosi are among thousands of locals benefitting from the initiative.