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Fighting deadly diseases in Darfur

© UNICEF Darfur/2004
Children are learning about vital hygiene practices at the Al-Riyad Camp, El Geneina, West Darfur

DARFUR, 13 August 2004 – In camps for internally displaced persons across the Darfur region of Sudan, the sanitation situation is grim. Children, women and men live, eat and sleep alongside their sheep, goats and donkeys. Besides the dirt and animal excrement that accumulates, there are not enough latrines or easy access to soap and water for the tens of thousands of displaced people currently living in the camps.

These perilous conditions put the children of Darfur at high risk for catching dysentery, cholera and hepatitis – all deadly killers.

And one of these killers has already struck – the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières has reported sixty cases of Hepatitis E in the Morni camp last week, and additional cases have been reported in the Krinding, Ardamata and Dorti camps. 

As Hepatitis E is mainly transmitted through oral-fecal contamination, hygiene education and safe water is key to stopping this disease and is a top priority for UNICEF and its partners.

“Although the rainy season has started, access to safe water is still a problem. We’ve been working for two weeks on a health and hygiene education campaign for the IDPs [internally displaced persons]” said Sandrine Martin, a UNICEF assistant communication officer in Darfur. “We are training people in the camps to teach others about the importance of hand washing and use of clean water.”

In response to this need, UNICEF and its partners have created a Health and Hygiene Education programme (HHEP), which is being implemented in Darfur’s overcrowded IDP camps.  The purpose of the programme is to introduce the people in the camps to the importance of safe hygiene and sanitation practices even under dire circumstances, like those in many of the camps.

© UNICEF Darfur/2004
Children perform a play about the importance of hygiene education at the Al-Riyad Camp, El Geneina, West Darfur

UNICEF and its partners are providing instructional pamphlets and posters to explain what steps should be taken in the camps to ensure that sanitary practices become routine.

In addition to raising awareness of good hygiene practices, UNICEF and its partners are also working to improve environmental sanitation conditions in the camps. In addition to hygiene education, actions taken include providing jerry cans for water transportation, building more latrines, and chlorinating all water sources (tanks, bladders, and even jerry cans at hand pumps).

Reaching the children is especially important in this campaign. “UNICEF is supporting recreational activities for children and incorporating hygiene messages to activities through songs, drama and poems,” said Ms. Martin.

In late July when the HHEP programme was launched in West Darfur at the Al-Riyad IDP camp in El Geneina, West Darfur, children performed songs and skits about the importance of good hygiene and sanitation practices. They sang songs that cover UNICEF’s core hygiene education campaign messages:

 “Drink from safe water sources and clean your jerry cans.”
“Wash your hands before eating.”
“Wash your hands after defecation.”
“Go to the nearest health facility if you have any source of pain or diarrhoea.”

For the children in Darfur, these messages are potential life-savers.



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