Pupils of Namirembe Parents primary school Nakulabye wash their hands during a Lunch break. (Picture credit: Lillian Babirye)
By John Tugume
“We should not just rinse our hands with water, but always wash them well with clean water and soap,” advised Mercy Mukose, a primary six pupil of Serina Nursery and Primary School in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb.
Her views were echoed by several other pupils and residents of the water-logged city division, where sanitation has been a challenge. Because many parts of the area are water-logged and they regularly flood, construction of pit latrines has been hard. And many landlords have rental houses without toilet facilities.
As the world marks Global Handwashing Day today (October 15), every one is reminded that maintaining proper hand hygiene by washing them with soap and water is important in preventing food-borne diseases such as diarrheal diseases, which cause the death of many children.
This year, national celebrations have been held in Kamwenge district under the theme “Clean hands – a recipe for health”, which makes handwashing part and parcel of every day life.
Global Handwashing Day is a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases.
According to government statistics, 47% of diarrhea cases can be prevented through proper handwashing with clean water and soap while 16% of respiratory infections can also be preventable through similar practices.
Robert Otim, the co-ordinator of National Handwashing Initiative at the water ministry, has urged everyone to promote handwashing.
“Build the buzz, trigger the public, raise awareness. Become a champion and model hand washing behaviour and remind or help others to always wash hands with soap and water before eating, cooking or feeding children,” Otim said.
“Spread the word and not the germs. Make hand washing a routine part of your family meals,” Otim further urged Ugandans.
And Kawempe Division has since taken on Otim’s challenge, with landlords and school owners setting up modern toilet facilities that have proper handwashing areas.
Perusi Nakaweesi, a landlady of 10 two-bedroomed houses in Nsooba Zone of Kyebando, told New Vision she had decided to upgrade her toilet facility after receiving training and support from Amref, a non-governmental organisation.
“We used to have recurrent cholera infections among residents and I thought it wise to upgrade my pit-latrine to an eco-friendly toilet. When I approached Amref for support, they gave me financial support as well as an engineer to help me set up the facility,” Nakaweesi says.
She adds that she is lucky to have piped water in her compound and would, therefore, install a tank next to the toilet.
“I will not get tired of filing the tank with water and I want to tell other landlords to learn from me. Some tenants are stubborn, but after consistent reminders, I am sure they will make handwashing part of the process of using the toilet,” she says.
Whereas landlords in Kampala, especially the wetland areas have always appealed to Kampala Capital City Authority to establish public toilets, the landlords in Kawempe have decided to construct their own toilets that can be used by the public at a fee.
David Kaggwa, a landlord in Katale Zone, Bwaise II, says after failing to get help from authorities, he approached Amref to help him construct a public toilet that can be accessed at a small fee.
“Since this is a swampy area, we have always had latrines sinking while others leak waste into the trenches. That is why I decided to save some sh7m and requested Amref for top-up so that I can construct a modern toilet,” Kaggwa says.
Katale zone in Bwaise II has a population of about 300 people who include taxi park users, food vendors, carpenters and welders.
“Most people don’t know how to build latrines and toilets in wetlands. Even when the toilets are built, the handwashing bit is sort of neglected. We want to ensure that there is always enough water and soap for all users to wash,” Kaggwa adds.
To ensure that the message sinks deep into the minds of toilet users in Kawempe, Kaggwa advises that big posters should be erected near latrines to encourage people to wash their hands after using the latrine.
Kaggwa also tips other landlords to benefit from the ongoing campaign by Amref, where they give out building materials, such as cement, bricks and pipes to those who want to set up modern toilets with good handwashing facilities.
According to Amref, most of Kampala’s residents (64%) stay in informal settlements and have poor access to social and infrastructure services, including sanitation. Since Kawempe Division has the largest number of informal settlements they decided to target this part of the city.
“Furthermore, as the majority of the population within the informal settlements is housed in rented premises. So we found it more feasible to work with landlords to improve sanitation conditions for the tenants. The beneficiaries of this project are landlords with seven or more tenants,” Mtwalib Walude, an engineer with Amref, says.
“The total project cost is $590,465. We contribute an average of $1,000 per landlord in the form of concrete blocks, cement and technical assistance (drawings, cost schedule, training of local artisans and support supervision). The rest of the costs are born by the landlord,” he added.
Walude says their decision to focus on Kawempe was informed by statistics that indicated the area was always infested with waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea.
“This year there was a cholera outbreak that mainly affected Kawempe Division with over 72 cases registered (51 from Katanga area),” Walude says.
He, however adds that all this can be reversed as long as residents wash their hands well after using proper toilet facilities.
Meanwhile, the director of Serina P/Sin Kawempe, Richard Musisi Ssenyonjo, asked other school leaders and teachers in the area to form health groups through which the pupils can be taught proper handwashing methods.
“We train prefects and provide soap all the time. We also emphasise that whoever enters the toilet, whether for short or long call, washes their hands,” he says.
“Children have become handwashing ambassadors by spreading the message to communities. That way, there is positive change regarding proper handwashing,” Ssenjojo adds.
Here are a few ways you can make a difference this Global Handwashing Day:
Wash your hands with soap at critical times, especially before eating, cooking, or feeding others.
Model good handwashing behavior, and remind or help others to always wash their hands before eating.
Make handwashing part of your family meals.
Establish places to wash your hands in the household, in your community, in schools, workplaces, and in health facilities.
Promote effective handwashing behavior change in research, policy, programs, and advocacy.