• Monday, July 22, 2024
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Water shortages and poor hygiene: A breeding ground for infectious diseases in Africa

Water resources bill and the rest of us

The United Nations explicitly recognises the human right to water and sanitation-everyone has the right to sufficient, continuous, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use. Improved water supply and sanitation are important for public health.

However, globally, over 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries, with limited access to water and basic sanitation services. Of this population, over 40% live in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

In SSA, more than a quarter of the population spends over half an hour per trip to collect water. Also, inadequate access to safe toilets causes people to defecate in the open, exposing food and water sources to human waste. Reports show that a quarter of those defecating openly worldwide live in SSA.

Driving forces of the water crisis in Africa

Various factors contribute to the water crisis in Africa. However, the major drivers include population growth and rural-urban migration, poverty, natural disasters, and increased pollution. The increasing demand for water in Africa poses a significant burden on the limited water resources. SSA has the highest prevalence of urban slums in the world, which are breeding grounds for infectious diseases.

Poverty is also a major barrier to access to water and sanitation, and SSA is the poorest and least developed region in the world. Deep and widespread poverty across Africa limits the effectiveness and sustainability of public health interventions to improve water and sanitation services.

Also, inadequate access to safe toilets causes people to defecate in the open, exposing food and water sources to human waste. Reports show that a quarter of those defecating openly worldwide live in SSA

Even where the best water coverage exists, 1 in 4 people still lack adequate sanitation. The challenges of water shortages and poor sanitation are particularly dire in rural communities, where funding for establishing good water and sanitary facilities is also inadequate. Often, external and domestic funding is majorly spent in urban areas while rural communities lag behind. This poor access to water and sanitation has tremendous negative consequences on the public health of the African populace.

Read also: Why Nigeria lacks safe, clean water – report

The relationship between water and health

Water shortages, contaminated water and poor sanitation are interrelated and linked to the spread of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, and typhoid. 73% of the diarrhoeal and enteric disease burden in Africa is linked to poor access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), with the greater proportion occurring in poorer children. Reports show that 115 people in Africa die every hour from diseases linked to poor water and sanitary conditions. Also, in places where water supply is not readily available, people often ignore the practice of regular hand washing, which can further increase the risk of infectious diseases.

Facing probably the highest preventable health risk are patients and healthcare workers who are at risk of infection and disease in health facilities where there are inadequate WASH services. Globally, 15% of patients develop an infection during a hospital stay, with the proportion being much greater in low-income countries.

Case study of cholera outbreak in Cameroon

Cameroon is currently struggling to contain a deadly cholera outbreak that has resulted in dozens of deaths. According to Cameroon’s public health ministry, water shortages and poor hygiene have led to a spread of the bacterial disease throughout half of the country, putting thousands of lives at risk. Government authorities have stated that the provision of clean drinking water, particularly to arid towns and villages, is an emergency need. Citizens have been encouraged to adopt basic hygiene practices

Strategies to address the water crisis in Africa

Addressing the water and sanitation crisis in Africa is crucial to building healthy societies. To achieve this, there is a need for regional and national collaboration between governments, private sector organisations, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders in the public health sector. For sustainable implementation of public health interventions, the following strategies must be adopted:

1. Increased investment to finance public health interventions: A recent report stated that achieving universal safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene in SSA will cost $35 billion per annum. Efforts to achieve sustainable transformation are therefore expensive and require a pooled investment from various stakeholders. Investment efforts should also concentrate more on rural communities with the most pressing needs.

2. Adoption of smart technologies for water management: The African Union High Level Panel on Innovation and Emerging Technologies (APET) urges African countries to leverage on smart technologies to address their WASH challenges. Smart water management systems can incorporate sensors, monitors, geographic information systems (GIS), satellite mapping, and other data sharing tools, which can help to monitor water quality, water quantity, efficient irrigation, leak detection, floods, droughts, etc.

3. Strengthening water and sanitation services in healthcare facilities, particularly in rural communities: This will increase access to safe and quality healthcare in rural areas which is crucial to implementing primary health care and reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infectious diseases both for patients and health workers.

4. Establishment of community-based and publicly supported programmes that promote behavioural change and education is crucial to improving public adoption of safe and hygienic practices.

Given the dire consequences of water shortages and poor hygiene on public health, African governments must rise to the challenge of addressing poor water and sanitary conditions as a crucial pathway to achieving universal health coverage.