POOR hygiene is a major contributor to several hygiene-related diseases in the Southern Africa region, a new WaterAid report has revealed.
The report stated that good hygiene practices are essential in preventing the spread of potentially deadly waterborne diseases and without them, the benefits of other poverty reduction strategies would be undermined and human dignity compromised.
WaterAid’s State of Hygiene in Southern Africa report stated that the most prominent are the endemic cholera outbreaks in five countries in the region including Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as outbreaks of typhoid, Hepatitis E, and more recently Listeriosis.
According to the report, less than half of the rural population in Southern Africa had access to a decent toilet, as recorded by the Joint Monitoring Programme.
This exposes the poorest and most vulnerable communities to disease thereby trapping them in a cycle of poverty.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation estimates that a newborn in low- and middle-income countries dies every minute from infections related to a lack of clean water and an unclean environment.
Providing water, adequate toilets and hygiene in homes and health centres would help support these newborns to survive and thrive, according to UNICEF.
According to the Global Handwashing Partnership, hand washing with soap could reduce diarrhea by almost 50 per cent and respiratory illnesses (including pneumonia) by almost 25 per cent.
The report shows that hygiene practices vary between and within countries, and disparities exist between urban and rural areas, and between rich and poor households.
It identified some of the main areas for improvement in hygiene practices, including open defecation, which presents a significant public health risk, but remains widespread in the region especially in rural areas.
“In Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe, for example, the proportion of people practicing open defecation is higher than the proportion with access to a basic latrine. The practice of hand-washing is low; basic hand-washing with soap and water is practiced by less than a quarter of the population in five out of eight countries for which data is available, as reported by the Global Handwashing Partnership,” he stated.
“Collection and transportation of drinking water presents a significant risk of post-collection contamination and treating stored drinking water at household level is infrequently practiced throughout the region. Data sets on food hygiene and menstrual hygiene management are weak. Food and menstrual hygiene data is not included in standardised data sources such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and is rarely included in routine monitoring at country level.”
The report argues that key barriers to delivering hygiene behaviour change programmes include inconsistent policy inclusion and limited available data, meaning that the promotion of better hygiene practices was often overlooked in reviews and planning.
It stated that while limited and often ineffective coordination between health ministries and the water, sanitation and hygiene sectors means that hygiene promotion was often neglected both in sector processes and financial allocations.
WaterAid Southern regional director Africa Robert Kampala said too many people continue to live without access to clean water and decent sanitation across the Southern African region.
“However, progress towards improving access to these basic facilities must also be complemented with a step-change in our attitudes towards the promotion of better hygiene practices. Better financing, coordination, leadership and monitoring of hygiene promotion policies by governments across Southern Africa must be put in place to ensure better hygiene practices are central to our efforts to improve access to clean water and decent sanitation and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” stated Kampala.