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Concerns over poor access to sanitation, hygiene facilities

By Joke Falaju, Abuja
14 November 2018   |   4:23 am
Angered by the rate at which Nigerians suffer from water-borne diseases, President Muhammadu Buhari last Thursday declared a state of emergency on Water...

Angered by the rate at which Nigerians suffer from water-borne diseases, President Muhammadu Buhari last Thursday declared a state of emergency on Water, Sanitation and Hygienic sector (WASH), just as he noted that the nation has been ranked number two in open defecation globally.

“Our country now ranks No 2 in the global rating on Open Defecation as about 25 per cent of our population are practicing open defecation”, he said.

Speaking during the inauguration of the National Action Plan for Revitalization of Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Sector, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, quoted Buhari as saying: ”Access to piped water services which was 32 per cent in 1990 has declined to seven per cent in 2015; access to improved sanitation has also decreased from 38 per cent in 1990 to 29 per cent in 2015.

“WASH services at the rural areas are unsustainable as 46 per cent of all water schemes are non-functional, and the share of our spending on WASH sector has been declining from 0.70 per cent of the GDP in 1990 to about 0.27 per cent in 2015, which is far below the 0.70 per cent at the West African regional level.”

Buhari therefore directed government at all levels to redouble efforts and work towards meeting the nation’s water supply and sanitation needs. The president described statistics on open defecation, access to piped water services and sanitation in the country as ”disturbing”, warning that henceforth, the Federal Government support to state governments will be based on their commitment to implement the National WASH Action Plan in their respective States and to end open defecation by 2025.

But what actually is the National WASH Action Plan. It was part of the recommendations at the end of a National Retreat on Revitalisation of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), in Abuja on February 20, 2018. The plan showed that, by 2030, every Nigerian would have access to safely managed sanitation and hygiene facilities in cities, small towns, and rural communities.

The plan also stipulates that state and local governments enforce existing building codes and related legislation regarding the minimum number of sanitation facilities required for buildings and facilities. This would also ensure that where such existing codes and legislations were inadequate, new codes would be drafted and enacted.

According to Mr. Emmanuel Awe, the Director, Water Quality Control and Sanitation, there was the need for all tiers of government to institutionalise sanitation as a counterpart to water supply. He said ignoring sanitation would be detrimental to the wellbeing of the citizenry.

“Sanitation cannot be ignored, it is a silent killer. Nigeria can reduce its disease burden by making access to Water and Sanitation a priority. We need to wake up to the reality to advocate for more funding to scale up sanitation and hygiene before the end of the SDGs.”

When the Ebola Virus Disease broke out in 2014, hand washing naturally became a cultural behaviour for many Nigerians, hand washing facilities were seen in public places, most ladies bags had hand wash liquid inside. Unfortunately, four years down the line, reverse is the case as people feel hand washing is no longer necessary since the country is not under threat by the viral disease. What people have forgotten is that hand washing at critical times not only prevent spread of diseases but also saves lives.

Report has it that washing hands with soap and water reduces cases of diarrhoea by 50 per cent, though globally, less than 19 per cent (representing one in five persons) wash their hands after defecation, while 2.4 billion people across the world live with poor sanitation and hygiene. In Nigeria, the situation is worse: of the estimated 180 million population, 157 million people live without access to sanitation facilities.

Access to hand wash facilities is even lower in rural and poor households in the county. At health care centers, basic hand-washing facilities are inadequate, as one in six hospitals (16 percent) do not have places for washing hands with soap and water.

A World Bank report recently raised concern over the persistent outbreak of diarrhoea diseases, cholera, death of women during childbirth and millions of naira lost to reduced productivity.

The apex bank estimated that countries lose $260 billion annually to poor access to sanitation and hygiene; everyday 2,000 children die before their fifth birthday due to diarrheal disease caused by poor sanitation. Diarrhea alone has reportedly killed over 150,000 children in the last 12 months. This is far more than the number that has died from Boko Haram onslaught in the Northeast.

While the world is in search of solutions to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and across the world, it has already been proven that the simple solution to tackling hygiene and sanitation related diseases is through hand-washing with soap and clean water.

Experts are of the opinion that hand-washing with soap can reduce diarrhoea diseases by 48 per cent and if it is combined with improved sanitation it can be boosted to 68 per cent. It could also reduce the loss of nutrients and stunting in children under five by up to 15 per cent. It is an important hygienic practice that keeps food safe for consumption and protects from food-related diseases.

Despite the importance of hand-washing, in countries with high child mortality rates, as few as one per cent of people wash their hands effectively.

The relative lack of attention to WASH is the reason why the United Nations institute days such as Global Hand-washing Day and World Toilet Day to remind the world of how simple the solutions to serious issues could be.

It was however cheering when United Purpose (UP) in partnership with PZ Cusson used the occasion of the 2018 Global Hand-washing Day (GHD) to draw the attention of stakeholders to the life-changing habit of hand washing and inculcate the habit in young ones.

During the 2018 GHD celebration, events were held across 12 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Benue and Cross River states last month through the United Purpose’s WASH programme in LGAs for Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (RUSHPIN) and Community-led Health Improvement through Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (CHISHPIN).

Over 43,000 children participated in the events held between October 9 and 15, 2018. Participating schools were selected with participating kids from each school’s Environmental Health Clubs (EHCs). EHCs are sanitation and hygiene clubs established in schools to enhance existing skills of participants in life skills-based hygiene education using child to child approach in order to bring about sustainable behavioural changes at school, family and community levels.

At the events, the theme for the 2018 Global Hand-washing Day: ‘Clean hands a recipe for health,’ was highlighted and the kids engaged in fun hand-washing activities, which demonstrated the importance of hand-washing with soap. At the conclusion of the events, over 2,000 kids from 12 local government areas became hygiene heroes, who were equipped to take the hand-washing message back to their various schools and communities

On October 15, which was the Global Hand-washing Day, the Hygiene Heroes facilitated hand-washing with soap at their various schools, thus enabling other kids in their school join in celebrating the day.  They re-enacted the setting up of hand-washing stations in their schools and the lessons learnt from the GHD celebration they attended. In all, about 36,000 schools kids from 240 primary schools were reached through this activity.

The Country Director, United Purpose, Mr. Lex Merlijn, during the celebration at the Nicon Luxury Hotel in Abuja noted that the role behavior change plays in hygiene promotion cannot be over-emphasized. He said the group has seen that young persons have the tendency to effect change when given the opportunity.

He noted that the concept of hand washing should be propagated to everyone, saying that known diseases have been transmitted by hands to the mouth. According to him, using children, as hygiene heroes is an integral part of the campaign, as they will take the hand-washing message to their peers and family.

Managing Director, PZ Cussons, Mr. Alex Goma, noted that the simple message of `hand washing saves lives’, would enable everyone around the world have the benefit of good health that comes with clean hands. He said the event symbolizes the need for inter-sectoral collaboration to meet the hygiene needs for all Nigerians, noting that it is in line with the goal of the organization.

Stressing that hand-washing at critical times can help fight under nutrition, keep kids healthy and in school, Goma said it was also important for everyone to understand that disease prevention was far cheaper and cost-effective than cure, adding that with a culture of hand washing, a large number of illnesses could be prevented.

Earlier, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, said the role hand washing plays in food and nutrition cannot be over-emphasized, noting that it was a recipe for good health. Adamu, quoting the 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster survey, said no fewer than 43.6 per cent of under-fiver children are moderately and stunted, saying this impairs growth and development.

He added that the Federal Government has begun implementation of the National Hygiene Promotion Strategy and Implementation Guidelines to garner stakeholder’s participation in improving access to hygiene in the country.

Water Sanitation and Hygiene Ambassador for Nigeria, Ebele Okeke, in her goodwill message pointed out that potable water, proper sanitation and good hygiene are essential ingredients in ensuring a healthy life. She added that hand washing with soap under running water is an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.

Okeke highlighted the critical times for hand washing to include before eating, before cooking and serving food, after using toilet, after coughing, sneezing and blowing the nose, after shaking hands, after changing baby’s diaper, after contact with a sick person, after contact with animals, after changing sanitary pad and after leaving a gathering.