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In the face of worst outbreak in decades, children in Cameroon learn to fight cholera

© UNICEF Cameroon/2010
Pupils at Harde Primary School in Cameroon's Extreme North province take part in a lesson on cholera prevention.

By Jeremy Sprigge

MAROUA, Cameroon, 18 October 2010 – In the packed playground of Harde Primary School in Cameroon’s Extreme North province, six teams of local school children sit at desks in a semi-circle.
“Write down the main symptoms of cholera,” a teacher instructs into a microphone, her words crackling over the buzz of hundreds of school children from across the city of Maroua. After collecting the answers from each team, the teacher again takes to the microphone to give the correct answer. “The two main symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, leading to serious dehydration,” she says.

An excited cheer erupts from one of the teams as they celebrate a correct answer. The teacher continues with the next question.

Promoting cholera prevention

“Quizzes like this are an important way of educating young people and the wider community on cholera and the essential hygiene steps needed to prevent it,” says UNICEF Cameroon Communication for Development Specialist Claire Soppo. “It’s especially important as children are particularly vulnerable. Children learn the facts and then go home and tell their parents and families, spreading the information and eventually changing behaviors.”

Educating school children and young people about cholera and other waterborne diseases is at the heart of a new campaign, ‘My School Without Cholera’, launched by the government across Cameroon’s three northern regions and supported by UNICEF and other partners, including the private sector. The country is facing the worst cholera outbreak in over 20 years. With more than 7,000 cases and some 500 deaths, the need to promote essential hygiene and sanitation practices with clear information is urgent.

© UNICEF Cameroon/2010
A team of local school children takes part in quiz about cholera as part of a UNICEF-supported ‘My School Without Cholera’ campaign in Maroua, Cameroon.

“The campaign focuses on four main actions to prevent cholera: Drinking clean safe water, using a latrine, washing hands with soap and water after visiting the latrine and before eating food, and washing fruit and vegetables before eating,” explains Ms. Soppo.

Launched to coincide with the start of the new school term, the quiz at Harde Primary School marks the beginning of the campaign and will eventually reach over 1.6 million children through the distribution of posters and leaflets to each of the 3,639 schools in the three regions, specific classroom lessons on hygiene and sanitation, the training of community members to spread this information, as well as broadcasting TV, radio and SMS messages.

Safer practices

“We have put posters in classrooms, and we use them in lessons to explain what cholera is, its symptoms, how it is transmitted and, importantly, the four main steps needed to prevent its spread,” says Harde School Director, Joseph Frederix Mtopi. “Before the campaign started, most of our pupils didn’t know what cholera was or the basics about hygiene, but now we are seeing a real difference.  Children are telling their parents about hygiene, and I’ve seen our pupils telling others to wash their hands with soap before they eat.” 

According to pupils at Harde Primary School, the campaign is making strides.

© UNICEF Cameroon/2010
Pupils at Harde Primary School, in Maraoua, Cameroon, use latrines - an important step in reducing the spread of cholera.

“I had heard of cholera because a neighbor of ours died, but I didn’t know much,” says Samia Cornes, 10, a member of the Harde Primary School team that placed second in the quiz. “Now I know much more, and so do my friends.”

The ‘My School Without Cholera’ campaign is one of a number of steps that UNICEF and its partners are taking in response to the cholera outbreak and the long-term sanitation needs of children, young people and their communities in Cameroon. These include providing emergency water treatment assistance and working to improve sanitation through a ‘Community Led Total Sanitation’ programme, through which household members are trained in the basics of sanitation and hygiene and encouraged to build and use home latrines.



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