By Guy Hubbard
N’DJAMENA, Chad, 8 May 2012 – “It was a night in April,” explained Annour. “Our child began to vomit and have diarrhoea repeatedly. We gave him water, thinking that it would pass, but it went on. No one in the village health centre knew what it was, so we decided the next morning to take him to the hospital in N'Djamena – but he died on the way.”
At the hospital, health workers explained what had killed Annour’s son.
“They told us it was cholera,” he said. “They told me to treat the water and to clean all the utensils he used and all of the places he had been sick with chlorine, and to bury his dirty bedding and clothes,” Annour said. “But for me, this wasn’t enough.”
|© UNICEF video|
|VIDEO: 10 February 2012 - UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on a UNICEF programme that is improving sanitation in rural Chad. Watch in RealPlayer|
He has since begun a crusade against cholera.
“I went to a workshop where I got to understand how cholera is transmitted and the importance of hygiene. I began to sensitize people in my village.”
Poor access to basic sanitation
Chad has one of the lowest rates of access to safe drinking water and sanitation services in the world. The result has been recurrent outbreaks of diseases like polio, meningitis and cholera. While access to safe water and sanitation is improving in urban areas, children in rural areas are almost always at risk from these sanitation-related diseases.
Last year, there were over 17,000 cases of cholera in Chad and 459 deaths. But thanks to Annour's efforts, the village of Fadje was protected and unaffected.
The workshop Annour attended was run by UNICEF in partnership with 'Healthy Schools, Healthy Homes', a nongovernmental organization that promotes hygiene practices.
The workshops are part of a ‘Community-Led Total Sanitation’ approach to improving sanitation and hygiene in rural areas. The approach works with local communities, empowering residents to end open defecation and to build and maintain proper latrines.
|© UNICEF video|
|Villagers in Fadje, in rural Chad, enjoy fresh, clean water as part of a UNICEF-supported programme to promote hygiene and sanitation.|
Improving community health
Amina Ramadane runs 'Healthy Schools, Healthy Homes'. She travels from village to village, educating communities about sanitation and hygiene.
“We show them faecal matter and food,” she explained, “and they see the flies going from the faecal matter to the food and from the food to the faecal matter, and it’s done. Some people even begin to feel sick, and people rush off and start building their own latrines.”
Of the 30 villages Ms. Ramadane worked with in 2011, 20 have already achieved 100 per cent access to latrines. The communities impose their own rules, and in villages like Fadje, it has become compulsory for every household to have a latrine and for every member of the family to use it.
The latrines also improve families’ privacy and dignity.
“I'm blind and can't see anybody, so when I went outside to go to the toilet, I couldn't see who was there and who was looking at me,” Mahamat Seid said. “That's why I decided to build my own latrine. And before, no one knew that our diseases came from the faeces outside, but with this project everyone now knows and our village is clean.”
Families have also adopted other healthy hygiene practices, such as chlorinating their drinking water and washing their hands with soap, further protecting them from disease.
Saving lives a village at a time
The project is being implemented in eight regions across Chad.
Since it began, 202 villages have achieved 100 per cent latrine coverage and, with it, cleaner, healthier living conditions.
Chad still has a long way to go to reach the Millennium Development Goal target of halving, by 2015, the percentage of its population without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. But through the efforts of people like Annour and Ms. Ramadane, and with support from UNICEF, the country is saving lives one village at a time.