By Tione Andsen, MANA
WaterAid has challenged governments in southern Africa region to seriously consider sanitation and hygiene as a priority by increasing national budgetary allocations towards this sector.
WaterAid’s regional director for southern Africa, Robert Kampala said this Wednesday during southern Africa regional senior editor’s webinar meeting on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), a service that remains a fundamental human right to the citizenry of these countries.
He noted that most governments in the region are providing low budgetary allocations to the sector despite their earlier commitments to increase it.
“Stakeholders in the sector and the media need to remind their governments through several channels for them to appreciate that the provision of quality sanitation and hygiene remains a fundamental human right to every citizen in their countries,” Kampala said.
He observed that Malawi has over 17 million people, 13.8 million of whom don’t have access to a decent toilet and that more than 3,000 children die every year due to dirty water and poor sanitation.
Kampala added that in Zambia the inequality gap was widening as 6.8 million people still do not have access to clean water, which is almost half of the population of the country yet in recent budget announcement for 2021 — the WASH budget was reduced by 17%.
“The country is faced with COVID-19 crisis and cholera outbreaks which are perennial problem,” he said, adding that the pandemic has exposed a lot of sanitation and hygiene challenges which need urgent attention in order to address them.
He, however, said having good provision of clean water could not become meaningful if communities are not encouraged to wash their hands with soap.
“Hand hygiene remains critical to every society and public health issue,” he said.
He observed that COVID-19 measures of hand washing with soap is an integral part in the fight against the pandemic and government’s provision of clean water to communities is essential.
Zambia’s WaterAid country representative, Pamela Chisanga said access to clean water still remains a challenge to most countries in the region, saying sanitation and hygiene need to feature highly as one way fighting COVID-19.
Southern African region WASH Editor Forum president, Raphael Mweninguwe said governments within the region don’t prioritize issues of sanitation and hygiene in their budgeting processes as they view WASH as personal initiative.
In appreciating that African countries waged an effective campaign to combat the spread of Coronavirus despite their reputation for having fragile state heath systems, one of the factors that contributed to this was the good community health systems done when dealing with an outbreak.
The BBC reported that COVID-19 pandemic came at a time when the Democratic Republic of Congo was dealing with its biggest outbreak of Ebola yet and that prompted neighbouring states to be on high alert, and the health screening of travellers for Ebola was extended to include COVID-19.
Several West African states — which battled the world’s worst ever outbreak of Ebola from 2013-16 — had also mastered the public health measures that have been used to prevent COVID-19, including isolating the infected, tracing their contacts and then getting them quarantined while they get tested.
The lower fatalities due to the COVID-19 pandemic since April is probably through the WASH system that Malawi Ministry of Health and other stakeholders have been campaigning for long before COVID-19.
WASH was the centre of the preventive measures people were encouraged to perform in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 such as the frequent handwashing with water and soap (Water); proper wearing of face mask, avoiding over-crowded places (Sanitation) and practicing cough and sneeze etiquette (Hygiene).
Thursday was the global hand washing day, a day set aside to raise awareness on the importance of handwashing with soap as a key factor in disease prevention especially respiratory, intestinal and diarrhoeal diseases.
In his Thursday update, chairperson of the presidential task force on COVID-19, Dr. John Phuka took the opportunity to reiterate that when one washes their hands properly with soap and water, they will destroy the virus.
“The virus has a fatty layer around it, which holds it together. Soap is particularly good at breaking down that layer.
“However, handwashing with soap alone is not enough, therefore we need to ensure that we are practicing all the preventive measures wholesomely.
“In addition to handwashing with soap stay at home if you have flu like symptoms and decontaminating the commonly touched surfaces.”—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira, Maravi Express