Open dafaecation a woe

Health Watch, Normal

The National, Thursday February 20th, 2014

 WHEN Willie Savo needs to relieve himself, there’s only one place to go. 

“Near the mango tree,” the five-year-old said outside his family’s village home.

“Where else am I supposed to go?”

That’s a good question in Papua New Guinea where more than half of the 7.5 million people practise open defaecation, and awareness of the health risks remains low.

“The issue of open defaecation is a huge problem in PNG, with limited numbers of households across the country having access to toilets,” Louise Ewington, country director for Oxfam in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, told IRIN.

“Low levels of formal education (particularly in rural areas) and a lack of awareness regarding the public health implications of open defaecation, exacerbate the problems associated with it.”

Government figures indicate that up to 18% of the rural population and 5% of the urban population have no access to a hygienic toilet.

Lilian Siwi, head of health in Eastern Highlands, estimate that the real gap is much wider.

“95% of villages in our area don’t have toilets. As a result, open defecation remains high,” she said.

Experts say the safe disposal of excreta and hygienic behaviour play a key role in mitigating the risk of diarrhoea and diseases like cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid, polio, trachoma and respiratory infections.

Of concern is defecation near rivers or other water sources because more than 60% of Papuan New Guineans obtain the water for drinking and other household purposes directly from a natural source.

Over 900 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, according to Water Aid, an international non-government organisation.

Diarrhoea is one of the leading reasons for in-patient and out-patient visits to health facilities.

Rick Steele, the country representative for Water Aid, said: “Behaviour is the number one issue. We  need to change the mindset of communities.” – IRIN