Toilet shortage influences health

22 October 2018 | Health

Otis Finck - The lack of toilets and hand washing facilities in homes is seriously impacting the health of thousands of families in Namibia despite the fact that clean water for cooking, drinking and for adopting good hygiene practises is accessible to more than 84% of the population.

“The sanitation situation is equally challenging within schools. A rapid analysis undertaken earlier this year by the Khomas School Health Task Force at 22 schools revealed that the number of water points is insufficient for hand washing to be effectively practised. Budget allocations for hand washing soap are often low and this makes practising hand washing difficult,” said Rachel Odede, a representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in a speech read on her behalf by Frauke de Kort, a Unicef chief for child and social protection. This was done during a global hand washing day commemoration in Swakopmund.

Odede called for an increase in the promotion of hygienic practices at home, in schools and communities in order to save lives and reduce illness.

She added it was equally concerning that open air food vending which has become a common feature in cities and neighbourhoods has caused a strain on basic services such as water and sanitation.

“Food preparation is often done in unclean and unhygienic ways, serving and storage facilities are sometimes not sanitary while the food vendors and customers themselves often neglect toe exercise good personal hygiene such as hand washing with soap before handling or consuming food.”

She pointed out that the 2013 Namibian Demographic and Health Survey showed that more than 50% of the population (approximately 1.2 million people practise open defecation and nearly one in four children under the age of 5 is stunted.

In addition to that the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 50% of malnutrition cases including stunting can be associated with repeated diarrhoea as a result of unsafe water for insufficient hygiene.

“When sanitation is poor practicing hand washing becomes a challenge. Many people succumb to illnesses caused by viruses and bacteria which are picked up when shaking hands in greeting, when touching dirty surfaces, when going to toilet or when flies get into contact with food.”

Odede further labelled the current outbreak of hepatitis E as an example of the effects of inadequate sanitation and said over 3 474 suspected cases of hepatitis E have been attended to at various health facilities across Namibia while 31 deaths were recorded since September 2017. Of the reported cases Swakop had 88 confirmed occurrences since the outbreak was first recorded.

The disease has been prevalent in densely populated and under-resourced settlements where toilets are limited, practicing good hygiene such as hand washing with soap has been a perennial challenge and where open air food vending promotes the transmission of the disease.

“Extra supply of soap and washing facilities have been given to some of the communities and schools who have been affected by hepatitis E and other waterborne diseases. We hope the supplies are being put to good use in order to prevent the further spread of diseases.”

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