Changing habits to avert the spread of waterborne diseases in Togo
LOMÉ, Togo, May 24 2011 - It’s 6 A.M. when Folly Akakpo leaves his home making his way to the communal well in the district of Totsi - amongst the poorest neighborhoods in the capital of Lome. Folly is a volunteer from the Togolese Red Cross who teaches the community on safe hygiene practices and safe water treatment and storage. He is part of a team of 340 hygiene promoters that operate in the area for a UNICEF supported project.
“At first people complained about the taste and the smell of water after chlorine treatment and were reluctant to modify their habits. However, after being taught on the dangers of unsafe water consumption and on how safe hygiene practices can prevent diseases from spreading, they became more open to changes. People started coming up to me enthusiastically, asking me where they could buy chlorine tablets!”
Funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), the project Folly is working for aims at preventing severe diarrhea and other water borne diseases in the areas that were severely affected by the 2010 floods – the suburbs of the capital city Lomé and the southern region of Maritime. In October 2010, Togo experienced heavy seasonal rains causing flooding in most parts of the country. More than 82, 000 people were affected and cases of diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections surged, especially among children. One of the main reasons for this situation is the lack of access to drinkable water and the lack of sanitation combined with poor hygiene habits.
To prevent the prevalence of waterborne diseases during floods , UNICEF has supported hygiene promotion activities in affected communities by distributing chlorine tablets for safe water treatment, improving sanitary latrines andconstructing hand washing facilities in public spaces and in schools and by supporting training sessions for community health workers on the prevention, control andcase management of diarrheal diseases.
Abla Aziadouvo lives in the quarter of Totsi in Lome- it’s the same area where Folly works. She is a mother of five children. Her one-year old child, Gladis, fell sick during the floods.
“When my child started suffering from diarrhea I thought it was due to his teeth that were coming out. It lasted 10 days, so I went to the health unit of Djidjole. Westayed in the health unit for one week, after that we went back home. After some days, health promoters came at our door and gave us some tablets, to prevent my children from getting diarrhea,” she says, holding her baby in her arms.
Abla’s family is one of the many that have received the visit of a hygiene promoter at home. The project has reached out to over 500,000 people thanks to the active involvement of 340 volunteers of the Togolese Red-Cross who have been visiting households in order to conduct sensitization and training activities. Some of them were also deployed at private wells or boreholes where water is sold to the families that do not have any water source.
She proudly explains how her habits have changed afterreceiving training and how her children have not fallen sick ever since they are being educated to hand washing and improved hygiene practices.
“The promoters told me that when children come back from school they should clean their hands, especially after going to toilets and before eating …so that they will not fall sick anymore. If I want my children to be in good health, I have to check on the food they eat and the water they drink.If we go and collect water from the well, we have to place a tablet in each water container and wait for 30 minutes before consumption.”
As the hygiene promoter Folly explains, changing habits can be difficult to achieve. However, through dedicated assistance and efforts by all stakeholders to discuss issues more in depth and strengthen preventive actions, it is possible to bring about change. At the end of the project, a survey showed that 84 per cent of targeted households treat water with chlorine and 72 per cent of mothers wash their hands together with their children before eating.
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