As we all know, prevention is better than a cure. So to tackle the problems caused by bad hygiene and sanitation, plus a lack of health awareness, various projects are doing their best to help people learn how to protect themselves.
No-one would like their children to go to a school with no proper sanitation. But in Tanzania many schools do not have proper facilities, resulting in health problems and high drop-out rates. So UNICEF, in collaboration with the state, is providing lavatories along with lessons on staying healthy
In Tanzania nearly five children die every hour due to poor hygiene conditions, according to UNICEF. Inadequate water supply and sanitation facilities are not only a health issue but also affect school attendance and educational performance.
The rapid increase in primary school enrollment since the abolition of school fees for primary education in 2002 has put a heavy burden on existing school infrastructures. National data shows that on average there is only one pit latrine for every 56 children in Tanzania’s primary schools.
“We have a lot of challenges like the lack of adequate toilets, whereby 1,028 students use six toilets, three for boys and three for girls and also water which we have to hand pump because water supply from the tap is very unreliable,” said Ally Mzamilu, the head teacher at Kibugumu School, in the Kigamboni neighbourhood of Dar es Salaam.
Five years ago, 80 percent of schools lacked functioning hand-washing facilities, and virtually none had any soap available. Children in such schools also face increased risks, including diarrhoea, cholera, worms, and urinary infections.
UNICEF, in collaboration with the Tanzanian government, has introduced the pilot WASH programmes to 100 schools around the country.
“Wash services are very important, especially in schools, because children will learn better if the school environment is good,” UNICEF’s John Mfungo told euronews.
These programmes follow the National School WASH Guidelines and are promoting good sanitation and hygiene practices to over 70,000 children.
“The school environment is so much better due to the introduction of the project and it has also helped in reducing school absenteeism, the children really enjoy school now. This is partly because we have increased the number of toilets from nine to 29. The toilets are clean and we have been taught how to maintain the project;” said Kassim Dellow, a teacher at Mgulani School, in the Temeke district of Dar es Salaam.
Children can be the most effective advocates for social and behavioural change. The WASH programme includes the establishment of hygiene and sanitation clubs. They encourage pupils to pass on life-saving sanitation and hygiene practices to family members and others.
“At home where I live not everyone studies here, so I talk to my friends, relatives and neighbours educating them on how to prevent the spread of diseases,” said one of the students, Gloria.
Many adolescent girls are reluctant to continue their schooling because toilet and washing facilities are not private, unsafe or simply not available. UNICEF has supported distribution of a booklet with basic information about their age, menstruation and hygiene issues to over 50,000 girls in Tanzania.
The Missing Link in Indian development
In some under-developed parts of northern India some people live a three hour walk from their nearest healthcare centre. That is not only a problem when there is an emergency, but it means that getting accurate advice is difficult too. So a new phone application providing information on healthcare is proving a lifeline, particularly for women.
Of every 1,000 babies born alive in India each year, a shocking 44 die before they turn one year old. This alarming but avoidable statistic is mainly due to a lack of access to healthcare for pregnant women and adolescent girls, especially in remote and poor areas.
In the district of Mewat, just under 100 kms from the capital city of New Delhi, the situation is far from healthy. For over 50 percent of the population the nearest medical centre is between 30 minutes to three hours away, on foot. But harnessing the widespread reach of mobile phone networks, ZMQ's MIRA channel project is trying to remedy that.
“Our first strategy was to design good quality mobile phone communication strategies so that people could start getting information in their hands – they carry their health communication tools in their hands. The second step would be to provide them with tools to manage their own health and the third step would be to connect them to the service provisioning system of the country,” said ZMQ’s boss Subhi Quraishi.
A team of trained social workers under the MIRA channel project goes door-to-door. The phone application uses iconic language with limited audio text support and provides previously inaccessible information on reproductive health, infant care and family planning, now literally at their fingertips.
Once registered, a woman can track her menstrual cycles and prepare for child birth through a week-by-week progress update on her phone. Possible birth complications can be flagged in advance and remedial action taken by health workers. Post birth immunisations can also be tracked through the app.
“From this app I can see what’s my development. What it should be and by how much it lags behind,” one mobile phone user, Anjali, told euronews.
“Now that we can show them the benefits on the mobile phone, they have more belief and come for the immunisation of their babies,” explained health worker Sumti.
“Before the health workers, women would give birth to their children at home. When problems arose they couldn’t get to a hospital and died. Today due to the awareness created by the health workers things are changing and the women are getting more confident,” said Dr. O.P. Sahu, a general practitioner.
“We believe that telecoms provide a new lifeline. We believe that a woman in a village shouldn’t be dying while giving birth to a child because she could not connect to a doctor. This is our larger goal,” promised ZMQ’s Quraishi.
The ZMQ’s MIRAs project started in 2009 and received the Millennium Alliance Award last year.
Spirit for change in Central America
Studying to be a doctor takes years, but what if you want to start helping people immediately? In this report we follow a medical student from Guatemala who is so eager to start work that she volunteers to help with several projects aiming to raise awareness about health care. Ana Karen Fetzer De León is a remarkable young woman, just 19-years-old, but her charisma belies her age.
Ana Karen is so much into combining her passion for health and education with volunteering that she finds time in her daily schedule to help out in a Down Syndrome school in her native Guatemala City.
She also instructs youngsters on first-aid techniques at a non-profit organisation. And she is one of the WISE Learners’ Voice students too, so we can also find her at the programme’s workshops in Qatar.
How is she handling all this pressure? Or is it any pressure for her at all?
“I like to be at the university. I like making the effort and I like to learn. I also like doing my activities because that’s what makes me feel useful., makes me what I am,” she told euronews.
At the Margarita Tejada Down Syndrome Foundation, Ana Karen says she gives and receives love.
This project has been encouraging the integration of Down Syndrome people with the wider community since 1998. It is a goal that touched Ana Karen, when she first volunteered at the age of 16.
“Something that’s said here at Margarita Tejada is that we are more equal than different. And this is something that’s very important, to be tolerant of the differences between us, our different capacities. The most important lesson I’ve learnt here is that education doesn’t only mean university degrees or masters. What’s important in education is that it makes you become independent.”
Working with Down Syndrome people might open the path to future steps in her career, because she believes in the fruits of this work, that just by educating society she has helped those with Down Syndrome in Guatemala – as well as their families – to remove what is considered a stigma in this country’s society.
At Techo, an NGO helping families living in extreme poverty, Ana Karen teaches first aid techniques, and gives health and medical advice to volunteers. She has been with them for just over a year.
“Techo is very important because, since it is run by university student volunteers, it is a completely different experience. Many of them are friends of mine that told me, ‘Hey, come here with us, we need help here too’.”
The Guatemalan teenager has been chosen to be part of WISE Learners’ Voice in Doha, a programme which she says has enhanced her goals.
As part of their year-long involvement, the Learners will take part in an Executive Education Programme that combines online sessions, lectures and workshops on education, social entrepreneurship and leadership, as well as group work on a specific project in the field of education.
From January 4-13, 2014, they attended a first residential programme at Education City in Doha where international faculty and experts mentored them in the fields of education, social entrepreneurship and leadership. A second residential session will be held in Madrid, Spain, in June 2014. They will also be participating in a number of international conferences throughout the year.
“I think my ultimate goal is to open a big clinic to change the health issues for Down Syndrome patients in Guatemala. I might link health and education so that parents can go to this clinic or hospital and get the proper education and information for them to stimulate the children; not only about health but also in education. Because if you give them all the opportunities – from being healthy to being stimulated – you’ll get all these great human beings that can be actually really useful and meaningful for our society,” concludes Ana Karen.
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