menstrual hygieneMenstruation is a normal part of being a young woman, but many feel ashamed and often won’t go to school because of it. Silence about the issue has also led to poor reproductive health practices and gender disparity in the workforce. However, some people have chosen to speak out. In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) partnered with U-Report Global to promote discussion about the struggles that come with being a girl. This collaboration has challenged the stigma surrounding menstruation and sought to reinvent the societal norm.

Menstrual Hygiene Day

Menstrual Hygiene Day was founded by a German nonprofit called WASH United. The movement promotes advocacy for women’s reproductive health and urges political leaders to make it a priority. Advocacy efforts have ranged from individual voices to nonprofit organizations to government agencies. Participation has increased with every year. In 2016, 34 countries held 180 events, growing to 54 countries and 350 events in 2017. This year, 475 events were hosted in 70 countries.

U-Report Global, created by UNICEF, is a mobile platform that encourages youth to use social media to discuss issues relevant to their communities. The goal is to give kids the power to create social change and promote democracy among political leaders. Some countries have already seen the impact of U-Report’s polling system. In Liberia, 86 percent of U-Reporters said that “sex for grades” is a prevalent issue in their schools. Because of this, UNICEF staff met with the Minister of Education about how to address the problem.

Giving African Women a Voice

In alliance with U-Report’s mission, WAGGGS has used polls to give young women in Africa a voice. The results show that 59 percent of female respondents reported receiving an adequate amount menstrual education, 31 percent reported not having enough education, and 11 percent said they had received none. One in five girls had said the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene prevented them from seeking proper sanitary products. The polls also reported one in three respondents believing that menstruating women get unfair treatment. These results were used to encourage decision makers to offer more support to menstruating girls and encourage their school attendance.

Other groups like Speak Up Africa have contributed to the empowerment of young girls by providing menstrual education. They set up classes at the National Girls’ Camp in Sierra Leone, which dedicates itself to promoting a positive self-image and making smart decisions about reproductive health. First Lady H.E. Sia Nyama Koroma oversees this camp and other programs to benefit girls.

Respondents in Africa have told U-Report that girls should not feel ashamed of something that is normal. Many believe in the power of education to not only teach girls about menstrual health but let everyone know that it’s not dirty. Testimonies on WAGGGS show that the health of menstruating girls involves more than just teaching them how to use a pad; it’s about addressing gender inequality too.

– Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

Ghana Eradicated Trachoma, a Disease That Left Millions Blind
On June 13, 2018 the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that trachoma, an infectious and painful disease of the eye that may potentially lead to blindness, is no longer a public health concern in Ghana.

Trachoma and Ghana

Ghana sits on West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea and is a home to 28 million people — 2.8 (or 15 percent) of which were at risk of trachoma in 2000. The WHO attributes the success to a collective effort between local and regional communities and international collaboration.

Trachoma is caused by Chlamydia bacterium and is spread by flies, a lack of sanitation and lack of access to clean water. When a person has the disease, the inside of the eyelids become scarred and curl inwards, causing the lashes to scrape against the lens of the eye, eventually destroying it if left untreated.

The disease was once common in the west, but has since been reduced to areas of the world where people do not have the resources to fend off the disease, usually attacking the world’s poor and leaving them unable to properly carry out their daily tasks.

Trachoma of the Past, Present and Future

Often described as a sensation of “thorns” in the eyes, trachoma is an extremely uncomfortable and serious disease. The disease is ancient, and dates as far back as the time of the pharaohs and ancient Greeks and Romans. Even prominent figures across ancient history such as St. Paul, Cicero, Horace and Galileo were believed to have suffered from the disease.

In 2000, the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service put in place a national Trachoma Elimination Program. This program involved putting the Surgery for Trichiasis, Antibiotics to Ward Off Infection (SAFE) strategy into action.

Surgery for trichiasis, the condition in which the eyelashes grow inward, was provided free of charge for more than 6,000 patients, and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer donated 3.3 million doses of Zithromax antibiotics to help avoid infection.

Pfizer also has plans to continue to donate Zithromax globally to help other trachoma-endemic countries. The importance of hygiene and facial cleanliness was promoted throughout the community during events, school health education and radio messages — while Ghana’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency worked towards environmental improvements.

Number Seven, Ghana

Ghana is the seventh country to have officially wiped out the disease, along with Oman, Morocco, Mexico, Cambodia, Laos and Nepal — and it is the only sub-saharan African country to have done so. In spite of this brilliant success, up to 200 million people are still at risk of contracting trachoma in 41 countries, many of which are on the African continent.

Experts are hopeful for the future eradication of the disease considering the ways in which Ghana eradicated trachoma. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed his optimism saying, “Although there’s more work to do elsewhere, the validation of elimination in Ghana allows another previously heavily-endemic country to celebrate significant success.”

– Camille Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Sanitation Facilities in Bhutan
Bhutan has made tremendous strides over the last few decades toward ensuring all people have access to clean and safe drinking water. In 1990, only 72 percent of the population of Bhutan had access to an improved water source and only 67 percent in rural areas. Just over 20 years later, The World Health Organization (WHO), in its 2012 Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) for Bhutan, reported that now 98 percent of the population of Bhutan has access to an improved source of drinking water.

Room for Improvement

Despite these tremendous improvements, 13 percent of childhood deaths in Bhutan are attributed to diarrhea. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 88 percent of diarrhea cases are caused by unclean water or improper sanitation facilities. Likewise, an estimated 30 percent of all health problems reported in rural areas of Bhutan stem at least partially from unsafe drinking water or improper sanitation methods.

Bhutan’s Ministry of Health and the Bhutanese Public Health Engineering Division recognize that a lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities is still a major cause of death and disease. It also recognizes that rural areas are especially in need of better sanitation facilities. In response, improving access to clean water and to high-quality sanitation services has become a priority.

Accessing Sanitation Facilities in Bhutan

Having access to clean water and having access to proper sanitation facilities are intrinsically linked. Sanitation facilities that are not properly containing waste can pollute what otherwise would be a clean source of water. However, data from the WHO indicates a lack of access to sanitation facilities in Bhutan is by far the larger of the two issues. In 2012, when 98 percent of Bhutanese had access to an improved water source, only 47 percent had access to an improved sanitation facility. The problem is especially acute in rural areas, which contain 80 percent of those who lack access to sanitation facilities.

To continue improving access to clean water and sanitation facilities in Bhutan, the government teamed up with UNICEF’s WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) program and formed the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Program (RSAHP). RSAHP works in rural communities across Bhutan to promote proper hygiene and sanitation practices and to help communities develop improved sanitation facilities.

RSAHP was initially brought to three of Bhutan’s most rural districts. By 2017, all three had improved sanitation coverage by more than 95 percent. Since its inception, the program has now spread to more than 800 rural communities. RSAHP strives to empower these communities by educating people about the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation and helping communities mobilize existing resources and manpower to construct new, effective sanitation facilities.

Importance of Clean Water & Proper Sanitation

Access to clean water prevents numerous diseases, including cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, dysentery and dracunculiasis. It is also associated with rates of school attendance for girls and rates of women in the workforce. Without easy access to clean water, many girls and women are forced to spend their time accessing and transporting water and, as such, stop attending school or are unable to work. The progress Bhutan has made toward ensuring access to clean water and modern sanitation facilities will help ensure a better future for all.

– Abigail Dunn
Photo: Flickr

water, sanitation and hygiene
Undernutrition is a major cause of disease and death that affects millions of people worldwide. A direct cause of undernutrition is disease indirectly related to factors such as contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation and hygiene. WASH United aims to fulfill the basic human right to clean drinking water and sanitation as recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene the Building Blocks of Global Health

Since 2010, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has been working to improve water, sanitation and hygiene services and practices in more than 100 countries worldwide. Last year, nearly 14 million people were provided with access to clean water and more than 11 million with basic toilets.

WASH is the unified term for water, sanitation and hygiene. Although each is a separate issue, success in one category is dependent on the other. For example, without clean water, basic hygiene is not possible; without toilets, sources of water become polluted. By focusing efforts on these dependent factors, WASH United hopes to increase the awareness of and access to clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

Water

Each year 800,000 children are killed by diarrhea caused by dirty water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene skills. This is more than the number of children killed by AIDS, malaria and measles combined. UNICEF reports that the risk of diarrhea can be reduced by almost 50 percent by washing hands with soap before eating and after using the toilet. WASH United works to make hand washing a habit for everyone through interactive games and positive messaging.

Sanitation

Worldwide, 2.4 billion people lack access to a hygienic toilet while 946 million have no access to a toilet of any kind. Instead, they use open places in and around their communities such as railroad tracks and ditches. Even with access, there are tens of thousands of toilets in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that are abandoned and unused. WASH United strives to change attitudes through innovative tools around sanitation and create a demand for toilets. 

Hygiene

A 2013 UNICEF study reported that one out of three girls in South Asia knew nothing about menstruation before starting their period, while 48 percent of girls in Iran and 10 percent of girls in India believed that menstruation is a disease. WASH United aims to educate women about important components of hygiene during menstruation and work closely with communities to motivate positive practices. 

To date, WASH United has reached 500 million people through campaigns and media work and has trained 200,000 children in good WASH behavior. However, there is still work to do. WASH United aims to achieve water, sanitation and hygiene for all people by 2030, and aspires to reach the World Health Assembly global nutrition targets by 2025. These targets include: 

  • A 40 percent reduction in the number of children under five years of age who are stunted
  • A 50 percent reduction of anemia in women of reproductive age
  • A 30 percent reduction of low birth weight
  • Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50 percent
  • Reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5 percent

Although there is still much to achieve, WASH United has already impacted the lives of millions. To date, it has reached 500 million people through campaigns and media work and has trained 200,000 children in good water, sanitation and hygiene behavior.

– Anne-Marie Maher
Photo: Flickr

waterless bathWorldwide, nearly 2.3 billion people lack access to basic sanitation and water services. A waterless bath created by a South African student has the potential to help alleviate this issue.

Inadequate access to clean water leads to devastating disease outbreaks like trachoma, which can lead to permanent blindness. The invention, called DryBath, is a waterless alternative to bathing that comes in the form of a cream and could help eliminate the threat of these water-borne diseases. By gaining the ability to bathe, people in poverty-stricken areas can drastically decrease the number of trachoma cases, which currently blind about 1.8 million people globally.

The South African student and inventor of DryBath, Ludwick Marishane of Limpopo, South Africa, created the alternative after a friend’s comment regarding bathing. Marishane eventually realized the potential for the waterless bath in developing areas. In his Ted Talk, Marishane elaborated on DryBath’s potential capabilities.

“Anyway, we realized that we could save 80 million liters of water on average each time they skipped a bath, and also we would save two hours a day for kids who are in rural areas, two hours more for school, two hours more for homework, two hours more to just be a kid,” Marishane said.

The effects of eliminating the need for bathing water has a wide array of positive results as Marishane mentioned. Not only does it decrease the risk of disease, but by removing the long walk for water that many children must embark on each day, DryBath allows children to spend more time on their education.

According to Business Insider, after Marishane’s first few marketing experiments, he realized that to reach people in developing areas, the waterless bath must be sold in smaller packets that cost about 50 cents per pack.

“One of the things we learned was that poor communities don’t buy products in bulk. They buy products on-demand,” Marishane said during his Ted Talk. “A person in Alex doesn’t buy a box of cigarettes. They buy one cigarette each day, even though it’s more expensive.”

With limited internet access, Marishane used his Nokia cell phone to research and write a 40-page business plan for his invention. The young entrepreneur was able to successfully create a product that made real progress to health in developing nations. While his initial intention was not so, he realized the potential and worked to develop the waterless bath.

“After seeing that global impact, we narrowed it down to our key value proposition, which was cleanliness and convenience. DryBath is a rich man’s convenience and a poor man’s lifesaver,” Marishane said.

– Austin Stoltzfus

Photo: Flickr

How to End the Hygiene Crisis in Ghana
Diarrhea kills 2,195 children each day, more than Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, malaria and measles combined, and n
early 11 percent of Ghana’s population relies on surface water — water that collects on the surface of the ground or top layer of a body of water — for their daily hydration needs. This water is unpurified and unsafe for human consumption, yet Ghanaians lack a safe alternative. Ghanaians who ingest surface water are at risk for water-related diseases, such as ever-deadly diarrhea.  

Risk of Diarrhea

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, diarrhea is a global health concern with 1.7 billion cases occurring every year. Although diarrhea can affect any age-group, it is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of five; in fact, 2,195 child fatalities happen every day worldwide. The hygiene crisis in Ghana has escalated with diarrhea as the third leading cause of death for children under five, taking nearly 10,000 lives every year.

How Does Diarrhea Become Fatal?

Diarrhea depletes body fluids, causing dehydration, and children often die when they have lost too much water from their bodies.

Several organizations have implemented health initiatives to combat the hygiene crisis in Ghana. Preventing diarrhea is possible by increasing water availability and quality, distributing oral rehydration salts, breastfeeding infants until six months of age and educating the population on proper sanitization techniques.

UNICEF and IWASH

‘IWASH,’ UNICEF Ghana’s handwashing project, yields extremely promising results in entire villages in Ghana; the program educates schoolchildren on the health effects of not washing their hands. While touring a handwashing facility with 70 schoolchildren, District Resource Coordinator Issah-Bello said that students should share their knowledge in order to be an ambassador for behavior change and end the hygiene crisis in Ghana.

The Rehydration Project

The Rehydration Project cites oral rehydration salts, or ORS, as the most effective and least expensive way to combat diarrhoeal dehydration. ORS is a combination of dry salts mixed with clean water that replaces fluids lost from diarrhea. If ORS is unavailable, a homemade solution may be made with six teaspoons of sugar, one-half teaspoon of salt and one liter of clean water.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding infants until six months of age can reduce infants’ likelihood of contracting diarrhea because breastfeeding mothers do not prepare their infant’s formula with contaminated water.

Clean Water

Water.org believes that clean water is the way to end poverty, save lives and prepare for the future. Since 2009, Water.org has worked to increase access to safe drinking water and sanitization facilities in Ghana. The organization’s current project is expected to be completed in late 2017, and is in the process of constructing 61 water facilities.

Water.org has also reached 53,000 Ghanaians through water systems, health and hygiene education and borehole wells. With numerous solutions like these, the hygiene crisis in Ghana is well on its way to resolution.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Togo Charity Works to Help Rural Villages Out of PovertyTogo has struggled to lift its citizens, especially those in rural areas, out of poverty and to ensure adequate access to necessities such as sanitation and drinking water.

A report by the International Monetary Fund found that in 2011, the percent of the rural population that lived below the poverty line was 73.4 percent. In urban areas, the rate was 44.7 percent.

Water Sanitation and Access to Clean Water

Specifically in regards to water sanitation and drinking water, work has been done by various organizations to improve access to these necessities, and as a result, help rural villages out of poverty.

The Water Governance Facility (WGF), backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), stated on its website that in 2015, 63 percent of Togo’s urban population had access to drinkable water, while in rural areas only 44 percent had access. The same report found that only 11 percent of Togo’s population benefited from water sanitation facilities.

These statistics were reported as part of a larger program called Governance, Advocacy and Leadership in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene that was implemented by the WGF in conjunction with the UNDP from 2014 to 2017.

The Power of Local Aid Groups

However, assistance has also come from organizations closer to home, which strive to help rural villages out of poverty and address its accompanying effects.

Recently, the Togo charity Christian Charity for People in Distress (CCPD) was awarded the Kyoto World Water Grand Prize for the work it has done to help a village of 290 people improve its water sanitation.

CCPD is based in Kpalimé, Togo and was created in April 2004 as a nonprofit Christian charity. The organization’s mission statement declares that its goal is to help rural villages out of poverty by further developing water access, sanitation and hygiene, as well as improving agricultural development, the environment and education.

On its website, CCPD lists four main objectives it seeks to accomplish through its charity work:

  • Protecting the rights of women and children.
  • Assisting the rural population of Togo in obtaining decent education and healthcare, and providing access to drinking water and sanitation.
  • Helping to economically develop rural areas by working alongside farmers to generate more income.
  • Facilitating food self-sufficiency in rural areas of Togo.

Making a Difference

Since 2006, CCPD’s water, sanitation and hygiene programs have aided more than 6,000 people. These programs usually involve the construction of wells, latrines and ECOSAN toilets, which is a waterless toilet designed to save water in countries that do not have water security. In addition, CCPD has worked to help rural villages out of poverty by providing school supplies to primary and secondary school students, aided in the construction of new schools and improved computer skills in adults and children.

The charity is the second African organization to win the Kyoto World Water Grand Prize, which will not only improve sanitation and water conditions, but will also decrease deaths related to illnesses such as cholera that are caused by poor sanitation.

CCPD has been aiding impoverished, rural areas of Togo since its creation, and does far more than just water and sanitation work. The charity’s efforts in regards to education, agricultural development, business development and environmental protection have all impacted communities in Togo and given them the help they need to transition out of poverty.

– Jennifer Jones

Adequate sanitation and toilets are basic necessities that ensure and promote the health of people in developing countries. The importance of sanitation and toilets lies in helping reduce the spread of diseases. Sanitation systems aim to protect health by providing and promoting a clean environment.

Developing countries face challenges in accessing sanitation and hygiene care. The CDC states that hundreds of millions of people do not have access to adequate clean drinking water and that over one million deaths are a result of diseases transmitted via unclean water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene. Access to soap is an importance of hygiene, and often a challenge in availability for developing countries. The CDC offers an effective hand washing station within communities in need of proper hygiene. Known as Tippy Taps, these stations use less water and soap than other means of hand washing.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is approaching the importance of sanitation and toilets by partnering with several organizations to reduce water-borne diseases. The Water, Sanitation & Hygiene initiative aims to reduce disease and improve lives by looking closely at communities and governments to understand their environment and what is suitable for providing hygiene and water. The Gates Foundation also supports establishing an end to open defecation and upgrading latrines in order to encourage people to practice good hygiene as well as increasing the demand for sanitation.

The World Bank is addressing the importance of sanitation and toilets through the Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiative, which assesses the relationship between poverty and hygiene to properly develop methods in bringing hygiene and water. The World Bank found that the effects of unsafe drinking water and lack of proper hygiene result in various other health issues, such as child stunting. WASH, in coordination with other organizations, works to provide appropriate services. The WASH program aims to reduce childhood mortality via investing clean water access to rural communities.

Shedding light on the importance of sanitation and toilets can lead to proposing and establishing sustainable sanitation for communities with no access to sanitation. The disparities of hygiene access need to be addressed to ensure the health of communities and generations to come.

– Jennifer Serrato

Photo: Flickr

hand hygiene
Revolutionizing hand hygiene, the “crayon-soap” hybrid known as SoaPen is the brainchild of Amanat Anand, Yogita Agrawal and Shubham Issar — a trio of industrial designers from the Parsons School of Design. Primary-colored and lipstick-sized, each pen is packed with an analogue solution that accommodates up to 60 hand washes, providing children a thrilling way to fight bacteria and develop a habit of hand-washing at a young age.

Fun and flair aside, Shubham Issar said, the SoaPen is primarily a teaching tool aimed at promoting “better hygiene practices among children” and illuminating the benefits of washing hands, a habit that can stonewall the spread of lethal viruses.

According to a study published by The Lancet, preventable infectious diseases accounted for two-thirds of the nine million child deaths in 2008. Pneumonia and diarrhea, two deadly diseases that can be suppressed by vaccines, jointedly contributed to 25% of 2015 deaths in children under five years old.

“There is not enough awareness around the benefits of hand washing, not only among children, but among parents, teachers and caretakers,” Issar said. “With SoaPen’s playful design, ability to mark all over a child’s hand, and portability we have created a teaching tool that opens dialogue around hand washing.”

SoaPen’s Goal

SoaPen seeks to create a lasting psychological shift in the way children perceive hand washing by ingeniously transforming it from a chore to a pastime. Incorporating art and health, drawing and scrubbing, the product shows parents and children alike that hand washing can be made into a daily routine almost as exhilarating as tag.

In recent years, in-depth research has yielded alarming findings on the toxically high alcohol content in hand sanitizers — ranging from 45 to 95% — and how it severely cripples a child’s immune system. From 2010 to 2015, poison control center hotlines across the U.S. reported a 400% increase in emergency calls pertaining to inebriated children who had ingested excess sanitizer alcohol.

Parents are becoming increasingly anxious to find a safer replacement like the SoaPen, which Issar compared to a “portable soap.” Striking a delicate balance between caution and fun, Issar said, SoaPen “has a place in not just every classroom around the world,” but also every daycare center, pre-school and arts-and-crafts class.

Making a Difference

One of the team’s priorities is to teach children in low-income schools the importance of hand hygiene and provide teachers creative methods of using the SoaPen. After conducting multiple campaigns in schools, team members report to seeing more lasting hand hygiene retention. The company hopes to develop a “buy one, give one” business model to convert product sales in the U.S. to donations toward developing countries, Issar said.

With a Kickstarter fundraising campaign already underway, the team plans to soon contact nonprofits in the hygiene sector to disseminate SoaPens through their extensive connections in poorer corners of the world.

Claire Wang

Photo: SoaPen

Bicycle Powered Washing MachineDue to the lack of access to electricity and money, 14-year-old Remya Jose, from Keezhattor, India, created a bicycle powered washing machine. This machine created power through pedaling. As time goes on, this bicycle powered washing machine has the potential to make life much easier for families living without access to electricity.

In December 2014, Frank Clemente, Professor Emeritus of Social Science at Penn State University stated that no nation holds more of the world’s poor than India. At least 300 million people had no power at all and 700 million lacked access to modern energy services for lighting, cooking and water pumping. A simple task, such as washing clothes, is time consuming in India because many lack access to electricity.

It was with this in mind that Jose created her machine. She drew a diagram of it and her father took it to a nearby auto shop and asked workers to build it using his daughter’s instructions. The machine looks like a stationary bicycle connected to a metal box. It is composed of aluminum and has a horizontal cylinder in the center made of iron net wire.

To wash clothes, users put them into the cylinder, fill the box with water and detergent. The user then pedals for three to four minutes which rotates the cylinder at a very high speed with the clothes inside, cleaning them thoroughly. The soapy water drains out, the barrel is refilled and the process repeated.

There are many benefits to using the machine. First and foremost, it doesn’t require electricity in a region where electricity is rare. Second, it saves time. Washing clothes in the region took hours prior to the invention of Jose’s machine. With the machine, it takes about 30 minutes. Third, it can be used for exercising. The bicycle that powers it gives the user a workout. Fourth, it’s cheap. It costs about Rs.2000. Finally, it is mobile. One can pick it up and go. This is very practical for rural areas where it is used.

Unfortunately, the practicality of the machine has made it a turn-off for investors. Investors state that the machine is not commercially viable. So, despite the awards Jose received for the innovative invention, she has been looking for a job.

While investors may be uninterested in backing the bicycle powered washing machine, one thing is clear: Remya Jose made a difference. Her invention saves time and money for several of the world’s poor. In addition, it has inspired others to create improved versions of it to market to people interested in conserving energy. Jose’s story shows that with creativity, one individual can improve the lives of many.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr