Not just a latrine

Why revamped Water, Sanitation and Hygiene facilities are the key to comprehensive health service uptake in Western Uganda

By Kanami Uemura and Dominic Lomongin Aballa
water, sanitation, hygiene, health facilities, Uganda, Kamwenge District, infection prevention and control, IPC, health, maternal health, newborn health
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Uemura
01 February 2022

Maternal, neonatal and child health, immunization, laboratory, antiretroviral therapy, and more - a whole range of health services were available at Bigodi Health Centre III. Though the health centre serves a population of 16,000 people from Bigodi Town Council and surrounding villages in Kamwenge District in Western Uganda, the communities were not satisfied with the water and sanitation, hygiene (WASH) facilities in this health centre. 

The Bigodi Health Centre in charge Dr. Kaitirima Gad, notes that with only one borehole, shared with two schools and neighbouring villages, Bigodi Health Centre III faced serious infection prevention and control (IPC) challenges occasioned by water scarcity for hand washing, bathing, washing clothes, and cooking. The latrines were also getting filled up, having served for many years and the broken doors no longer offered much-needed privacy.

water, sanitation, hygiene, health facilities, Uganda, Kamwenge District, infection prevention and control, IPC, health, maternal health, newborn health
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Uemura

“Pregnant women would say that they didn’t want to come to this health centre for delivery because of insufficient water supply and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities,”

Namara Janet, the midwife, reveals.

The healthcare workers also struggled with access to clean and safe water. 

“When we ran out of water in the water tanks, we had to fetch water from the borehole behind the bush for use in the delivery room and maternity ward. It was difficult, especially during the night.” The midwife explains, “However, we now expect more women will be coming back to deliver their babies.”

What changed? 

In December 2021, with funding from the Government of Japan, UNICEF constructed WASH facilities at Bigodi. These include; a solar-powered water supply system, four-stance drainable latrine and a bathing shelter for women, four-stance drainable latrine for men, five tap stands serving the health facility and neighboring communities, a clothes drying line, and an incinerator. 

Janet anticipates that even more women will visit the health centre when they hear about the facility improvements, in spite of a few cultural challenges.

“People in this area do not necessarily know how to use the new showers and, there is still a myth that pregnant women should not use latrines. However, we shall continue sensitizing the community people so that they fully benefit from the new WASH facilities,” Janet notes. 

water, sanitation, hygiene, health facilities, Uganda, Kamwenge District, infection prevention and control, IPC, health, maternal health, newborn health
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Uemura

WASH facilities combating COVID-19

Dr. Kaitirima Gad the centre in charge notes that with the prevalence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), IPC in health facilities has become more important than ever, and the new facilities have been critical in the proper implementation of IPC, especially handwashing and social distancing. 

With the newly constructed WASH facilities, Dr. Kaitirima feels more confident about keeping the health centre and the community safe and hygienic during the prolonged pandemic. He proudly notes that the area has had only a limited number of COVID-19 cases, even during the second wave in 2021, giving the facilities significant credit. 

“It was not easy to convince people to follow the recommended standard operating procedures without adequate WASH facilities. People couldn’t even practice basic personal hygiene like hand washing. We are thus very grateful for the support from UNICEF as WASH facilities are essential for effective IPC,” Dr. Kaitirima notes, “The facilities also are psychologically supporting patients through fulfilling their needs.”

The two latrine blocks, a bathing shelter, five water taps, and one incinerator at Bigodi Health Centre are not just any WASH facilities but are a critical part of ensuring access to health services for every child, every woman, and their family members in Kamwenge District.