June 15, 2024

Cholera Outbreak: UNICEF calls for improved access to clean water, sanitation

Cholera Outbreak: UNICEF calls for improved access to clean water, sanitation

… Says 1.4m child deaths could be saved from diarrhea

By Chioma Obinna
With cases of cholera outbreaks
spreading across the country, the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF) has called for urgent need for improved access to clean water and sanitation nationwide.

UNICEF also noted that safer water could save 1.4 million child deaths from diarrhea, 500,000 deaths from malaria, 860,000 child deaths from malnutrition, as well as protect 10 million people from serious illnesses like lymphatic filariasis and trachoma.

The UNICEF Chief, Lagos Field Office, Celine Lafoucrier while responding to the current outbreak of cholera in Lagos, said despite the state government’s efforts to provide water to its population, the current outbreak demonstrates the need for an urgent government focus on ensuring the water provided to the population is clean and risk-free.

According to her, good water and sanitation infrastructure play a crucial role in reducing disease outbreaks, such as cholera, which causes an estimated 100,000 deaths annually.

“Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions are fundamental in preventing and responding to cholera epidemics.

“Safe water supplies, hygienic sanitation, and effective water management are key elements in this effort.

She regretted that, recurrent cholera outbreaks critically affect children and populations at large.
“These vulnerable groups face substantial health risks, particularly those under five who are prone to severe dehydration and higher mortality rates.

“Educational disruption is yet another critical consequence of cholera outbreaks, as illness and the need to care for sick family members lead to school closures and reduced attendance, hindering children’s learning and development.

“Similarly, post-recovery issues in children can include malnutrition, stunted growth, and weakened immune systems, increasing susceptibility to other diseases,”

Lafoucrier said addressing the challenges of cholera outbreaks requires a deliberate focus of state policies to provide high-standard water and sanitation facilities.

She said there was also the need to strengthened healthcare systems capable of responding to the demand in times of outbreaks, and state led educational campaigns on cholera prevention to protect children and the population at large.

Continuing, she said to alleviate cholera outbreaks, a comprehensive approach is essential.

“Sustainable WASH infrastructure and strengthened health systems capable of anticipating epidemics as well as, effective community engagement strategies are crucial to halt transmission.

“This includes enhancing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure, implementing rapid surveillance, promoting social mobilization, administering treatment, and utilizing oral cholera vaccines (OCV).

“Ultimately, preventing cholera centers on good sanitation and hygiene practices. Key actions include proper disposal of feces, eliminating open defecation, and ensuring access to potable water. Regular handwashing with clean, running water and soap is vital.

“Additionally, avoiding the consumption of uncooked vegetables, unwashed fruits, raw or undercooked seafood, and food from street vendors is important to reduce the risk of cholera infection.”

 She explained that increasing access to safe drinking water, improving sanitation and hygiene, and better water management can prevent almost one-tenth of the global disease burden.

“Community access to sanitation, like simple latrines, prevents drinking water contamination from human waste, reducing infections. Regular handwashing with soap and safe drinking water storage are also high-impact practices.

“Investing in drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, and water resource management systems is economically beneficial. Each dollar invested yields up to eight dollars in benefits.”

The UNICEF Chief added that safer water could annually prevent 1.4 million child deaths from diarrhea, 500,000 deaths from malaria, 860,000 child deaths from malnutrition, and protect 10 million people from serious illnesses like lymphatic filariasis and trachoma.

She further added that disease outbreaks ultimately hinder Nigeria’s progress in achieving health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 3, which focuses on ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all.

“These outbreaks strain Nigeria’s health system, diverting limited resources from essential services like routine immunisations and maternal and childcare, undermining universal health coverage.

Outbreaks disrupt health programs, leading to resurgences of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria, which hinder efforts to reduce child mortality and control epidemics.

“Economically, outbreaks shift funds from primary healthcare to emergency response, causing economic downturns that reduce health budgets and government revenues, further straining health services.

“However, outbreaks also present opportunities to strengthen Nigeria’s health system. A robust response is needed to improve health infrastructure, enhance economic resilience, and ensure equitable access to health services. This is essential for mitigating the impact of outbreaks and progressing towards sustainable health outcomes.”

Speaking on the role of communities, she stated that, Cholera outbreaks originate and spread within communities, making community-led and participatory approaches essential for sustainable prevention.

She said: “Communities and local governments can play crucial roles by leveraging communication channels to educate and protect public health. Prevention is more cost-effective than cure; thus, communities should establish systems that promote key hygiene practices, transforming them into a cultural norm. Community-led surveillance can enforce sanitation practices, with empowered local monitors ensuring compliance.

“Ultimately, access to clean water and sanitation is critical in preventing outbreaks. Communities must take collective action to ensure clean water access and maintain good hygiene. Identifying and empowering positive role models within the community can encourage the widespread adoption of healthy practices,” she added.