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In 2007, the British Medical Journal polled it’s members on what constitutes the greatest medical milestone of the last 150 years.
From the 15 medical milestones presented for discussion, sanitation was the clear winner – seen as more important to national health and saving lives than even the development of antibiotics and anaesthesia.
This serves as a strong reminder that, in order to tackle disease and systemic poverty, it’s vital to start with the basics.
The World Health Organisation has repeatedly stated that the best way to prevent cholera outbreaks is to focus on improved water sanitation and supply. Cholera can cause someone to lose 14 litres of water from their body in a single day.
In Uganda, the need is great: according to recent reports, almost a third of Ugandan children (33%) do not have access to clean drinking water. Sixty per cent live a full thirty minute walk from their closest water source and 33 Ugandan children die from diarrhoea every 24 hours. (All figures from Unicef)
Many areas of the country are locked into a vicious circle of poverty and disease; poor sanitation directly prevents the eradication of conditions such as dracunculiasis, a crippling parasitic disease caused by guinea worm.
Without any medication or vaccination possible to fight the disease, the guinea worm’s destructive hold on Uganda can only be dealt with by preventing people from drinking water that contains guinea worm larvae in the first place.
In a county where a reported 10% of the population still practices open defecation, the risk of illness and serious disease caused by drinking, cooking and cleaning with contaminated water is rife.
Yet without clean water, people have little choice but to scoop out the flies and drink what’s available.
A staggering 92% of mothers with children under five don’t have easy access to soap and water for hand washing, forcing a generation of children to grow up in unsanitary and difficult conditions.
In Uganda, All We Can is supporting work that is making a positive change to 20,000 people’s lives across the Wakiso District and has also begun work with villages on Zinga Island in central Uganda. Alongside a local organisation based in these communities, All We Can is supporting training, the provision of rainwater harvesting tanks and creating opportunities for people to come together to learn more about how to ensure the water they drink remains as safe as possible.
Harima Nakabuye is a Village Health Team (VHT) member on Zinga Island in Central Uganda, an island community All We Can has recently started supporting. She volunteers her time to serve as an initial point of contact for health related issues:
“Maintaining hygiene standards is a real problem on Zinga Island. The local government tried to build a community latrine but it was inadequate. Unfortunately, it was built on a slope which meant that when the tank was full, it emptied into another pit in front of the latrine. However, when it rained, the tank overflowed and the waste ran past people’s houses and into the lake. We need awareness seminars to help teach hygiene and health.”
In a low-wage economy, where the water supply infrastructure is underdeveloped and even the cost of soap is a luxury beyond the reach of the average household, training volunteers such as Harima in good sanitation practices – and helping her to raise awareness among the local community – is a strategic and essential part of the work All We Can supports in the region. Some 300 households make their home on Zinga Island and All We Can is working with them to make changes that improve access to safe, clean water supply.Please click here to read more about All We Can’s work in Uganda.