Surviving cholera is the best thing that happened to my personal hygiene

Says Otyang Lucia

By Alex Taremwa
water borne diseases, WASH, borehole, clean water, disease, cholera, unsafe water, health, hygiene,
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Taremwa
23 July 2020

Otyang Lucia, 32, was burning with thirst while she returned from the garden on a hot afternoon on 7 May. She tried the borehole in Natapara Kocur, her village but unfortunately, it was also thirsty. It had been thirsty for two years.  

Otyang knew better not to drink water from the nearby stream so she decided to try a neighbour for a cup of water. Little did she know that the water she was given was also fetched from the stream.

“I was given water in a metallic glass, I galloped it and instantly felt better. Then a few moments later, I got a running stomach, diarrhoea, and fever. Very soon, I was unconscious,”

she said.

What followed was only narrated to her after she woke in a treatment center. She was picked up by an ambulance from Loputuk Health Centre III where a treatment centre has been set up by the district cholera taskforce. 

By the time she regained consciousness, the hospital had been admitting up to nine patients daily – all with cholera. 

“I was worried about my family and children. I knew I had to fight and get back to them very fast,” she narrated. And indeed, after a week on the bedside, she was discharged. 

Before death, fear cholera 

Otyang is saddened that most people don’t make much of surviving cholera and as a result, they underestimate the disease. 

“This is an extremely viral disease that affects both children and adults and in a rural community like ours, if cholera is untreated, it has the capacity to kill within hours.” 

“This is a big problem. I told myself that when I was discharged, I would immediately change several things about my life. It should be the duty of each individual to keep himself or herself clean and healthy by observing simple rules of health. The health of a whole nation depends on the health of the individuals,” she retorted. 

At her homestead, the mother of two is now squeaky clean. Her routine rotates around fetching water from the borehole, washing her utensils and drying them, boiling drinking water, sweeping her house and compound and having her children cleaned up and their waste safely disposed of. 

Otyang recognises that her own hygiene cannot keep her family safe from cholera. She has decided to take her fight communal, teaching households the basic things they can do to keep cholera away from their village.

“I move around home to home with the village authorities demonstrating proper waste and rubbish disposal, proper use of pit latrines, proper food preparation, cleaning utensils and other basic hygiene techniques,”

Otyang said.

‘Our way of life’

The attitudes of the people in her community are the biggest impediment Otyang is facing. Pit latrines are being shunned by the locals because they fear “accidents.”

Lobong Simon Peter, the LC.1 Secretary in Natapara Kocur narrated how one of the residents had recently fallen in a pit latrine, broken his hip and later died from the injuries. The cause, he said, were the logs – the wooden slabs used to support the toilet structure from sinking into the pit. 

“Our pit latrines cannot last a year here because the termites seem to enjoy the material with which we build them. We are appealing to UNICEF to support us with concrete slabs for better longevity,” Lobong pleaded. 

The accident has not stopped the village leadership from mounting pressure on heads of households to construct pit latrines however temporary.  Lobong, who is also the Village Health Team leader, has been moving door-to-door assessing the progress on pit latrines. 

“The efforts of people like Otyang can only bear fruit if everyone in the village makes similar initiative. Otherwise if a fly moves from human waste at the neighbour’s Manyata (grass-thatched house) to Otyang’s food, she will get cholera again. 

Best foot forward

Although Natapara Kocur has not registered any cholera related deaths despite being the epicentre, the water situation still needs critical attention. With only one borehole serving a population of 2,000 people, the pressure and risk of contamination remains high. 

The Moroto District Water Officer, Lowot Musa said the district had already secured funding to drill more boreholes and use solar technology to pump water into tanks for hospitals and local communities. 

“At some health centres like Loputuk Health Centre III, they are only relying on water from a UNICEF-supplied rainwater harvesting system and tank. The gravitational flow water system collapsed over two years ago and we simply didn’t have the capacity to repair it,” he admitted. 

The cholera outbreak was a turning point for the district leadership which has since been on its best foot since May. The Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Locap Peterkhen commended individual efforts from the locals, the cholera task force and the partners such as UNICEF for the rapid response. 

“The last time I checked, we have had no new cases and no deaths for both COVID-19 and Cholera. If you understand the way of life of us the Karamojongs, you know how hard we are fighting and we shall not stop the social mobilisation and contact tracing even when the last patient is discharged,” he added. 

In Otyang’s village, UNICEF through Cooperation and Development (C&D) rehabilitated the borehole and treated other water sources. Households were supplied with jerry cans and soap to wash dishes and clothes. The mood is joyous once again and Otyang can now return to the garden and fend for her family.