Public health: UNICEF seeks eradication of open defecation in Anambra

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UZO UGWUNZE, inOjoto, writes on efforts by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to improve environmental sanitation and, by extension, public through eradication of open defecation in Anambra State.

It was a beehive of activities all through last week as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in conjunction with Anambra State government, embarked on establishment and orientation of Volunteer Influencers(Vis) for fast tracking construction and use of household latrines and adoption of other essential family practices (EFPs) in 12 communities in Idemili South Local Government Area of the State, as a panacea to open defecation.

Open defecation refers to the practices whereby people go out in fields, bushes, forest, open bodies of water or other open spaces rather than using the toilet, to defecate. Some do it because they have no access to latrine while others do it as a bad habit or leisure.

The programme came as a sequel to the programme held earlier this year. UNICEF supported the state to carryout intensive community engagement efforts in 36 communities using drama to educate people on EFPs.

The communities, at the end of the exercise, resolved on a number of action plans to improve the rate and pace of adoption of practices essential for proper maternal and child care. Other action plans include all families having latrines; complete eradication of open defecation; effective hand-washing with running water and soap or ash as a habitual practice in homes, schools, public places, general community gathering or meetings with the washing equipment provided at such critical place; proper personal and environmental hygiene to curb the spread of germs, diseases and sicknesses.

Speaking during the communities’ tour cum establishment and orientation of volunteer influencers’ programmes, the UNICEF facilitator in the state, Mrs. George Ileka (JP) frowned at the rate at which people still indulge in open defecation,agonizing that some landlords go as far as building shanties with many rooms without bothering to construct a latrine for their tenants.

She noted that some people who have latrines still prefer to go to the bush to defecate or allow their children stool inside polythene bags, which they throw across the wall with reckless abandon.

According to Mrs. Ileka, such practice has contributed to the spread of many tropical diseases.
“People must be discouraged from open defecation because when theydefecate outside or in the bush, houseflies perch on them and still find their way into our houses to perch on our food.The deposits of these flies cause dysentery, typhoid fever, diarrhea etc.

Some who engage in ‘shortput’, that is defecating inside polythene and throwing the feces across the wall, should be warned to desist from such because it pollutes the environment and unsuspecting members of the society can match it and it would mess up their body,” Ileka said.

Moreover, Ileka told the Volunteer Influencers that they were selected with the help of theirtraditional rulers or President-Generalsso that members of the society would refer to them for opinion, information and counsel, noting that one of the criteria for their selection also was that they have latrines in their own housesand would be able to communicate with others on essential family practices.

“UNICEF’sproposition is to engage you people as models because of your influences in the community and make you active players who will facilitate promoted practices within your communities. You must have latrines yourselves. Discover families without latrine and mandate them to construct one within one month or face State sanitation court and get sanctioned. Tell people to stop open defecation. Teach them effective hand washing with running water and soap or ash,” Ileka said

She charged them to visit at least 10 to 20 households every quarter, conduct interpersonal communication sessions with households on the construction and use of latrines and other essential child care and protection practices; conduct awareness creation sessions with community groups and meetings on the use and construction of household latrines, etc; conduct educational/dialogue sessions with community groups during their regular meetings on the use and construction of household latrines and adoption of other essential child care and protection practices; support families and influential village members to speak out against open defecation; work with the WDCs and health facilities and environmental health officers to enforce the use of latrines; work with traditional rulers and the clergy to intensify awareness creation on the use and construction of household latrines and adoption of other essential and child care and protection practices.

However, Mrs. Ileka said the UNICEF state team would meet with the L.G.A front line workers and VIs to review the progress made and improvements by the end of January 2018.Using her ipad, she showed them three different types of latrine. They include pit toilet, improved latrine with toilet seat/ pour flush and modern water cistern closet.
Mrs. Ileka advised them to do their voluntary duty well because UNICEF would come for verification and open defecation free certification, adding that the communities may attract more assistance from UNICEF, like sinking of boreholes if water is a problem to sanitation in their community,etc.

Speaking on effective hand washing, Mrs. Ileka demonstrated before the Volunteer Influencers the proper method of hand washing with running water and soap or ash at critical times.

She urged them to teach families, groups, elders, town unions the need to provide hand-washing gadgets at critical places like toilets or at gatherings.

“People should wash their two hands with running water and soap. It should be done before eating food or kola, after defecating etc,” she said.

In their separate speeches, President-General of Awka Etiti Town Union, Mr. Joachim Okeke and his counterpart at AkwaUkwu, Chief Michael Anierobi,represented by Michael Chukwurah, thanked UNICEF and Anambra State government for their concerted efforts and investments towards improved health and sanitation standards in communities in Anambra State, pledging onbehalf of the Volunteer Influencers that they would work tirelessly to see that the activities are carried out successfully in their communities.

The Community Orientation and Mobilization Officer (COMO), Mrs. Monica Azodo also pleaded with VIS to take their new responsibilities as a sacrifice to humanity, which would attract God’srewards,assuring that posterity would speak well of their good works.