Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
The torment faced by Samuel Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” is shared by 1.1 billion people worldwide who do not have access to safe drinking water. This lack of access has deadly consequences. 400 children under age five die every hour from biological contamination to drinking water, and an estimated 1.6 million children die every year from simple diarrhea, a water-borne affliction.
In Uganda, 33% of households do not have access to safe drinking water.
The Uganda Health Marking Group (UHMG), through the USAID-funded AFFORD Health Marketing Initiative, is addressing this serious gap and promoting safe water, hygiene and sanitation through a variety of interventions.
As part of its child health program, UHMG distributes Aquasafe water purification tablets. Over the past five years, more than 368 million liters of water were made safe in Uganda with use of Aquasafe. And UHMG supplements its Aquasafe distribution with community education programs on proper usage of the tablets and steps for preventing and treating childhood diarrheal diseases.
UHMG uses a variety of avenues to promote Aquasafe. Population Opinion Leaders – a network of community health activities developed by UHMG – educate their communities about the importance of treating drinking water at point of use with Aquasafe water purification tablets. Additionally, UHMG has recently identified that young people can serve as major drivers of change.
UHMG is empowering students to take charge of their health. After educating the students about the dangers of unsafe drinking water, they are taught how to treat water using the Aquasafe tablets. The students identify “water points” placed strategically around the school, and select “water champions” to monitor these points. The water champions ensure that water is constantly available at their water point that has been treated with Aquasafe, and that the area surrounding the water point is clean.
After learning how to treat water using Aquasafe at school, Anne Musima , age 16, embarked on a mission during her holidays. Anne held a water meeting in her village, Bigando-Masindi, under a mango tree. She invited youth who were part of a local football team, women who fetch water for their homes and men who are responsible for their family’s well-being, to attend. In total, 52 people came to Anne Musima’s meeting.
Anne used this opportunity to demonstrate how to use Aquasafe within households and communities and emphasized the importance of safe, clean drinking water. She explained: “Using the water containers from home and Aquasafe tablets I was given at school I taught the community on how they can acquire safe and clean drinking water by only using a tablet compared to boiling that takes a longer time.”
Anne’s effort exemplifies UHMG’s ultimate goal: to model behavior in schools and have it transfer to the surrounding communities and into the homes, thereby encouraging a comprehensive behavior change pattern towards proper water, sanitation and hygiene practices.
One Aquasafe tablet is comparable in cost to that of one small sweet. And one tablet can treat 20 liters of clear tap water. Thus, for the price of a single sweet, a household can prevent the water borne diseases that are killing 400 children under five every hour.
With champions like Anne Musima, and an inexpensive solution like Aquasafe, UHMG has found a solution to reduce the number of children who die of diarrheal diseases each year.
Learn more about UHMG and the AFFORD Health Marketing Initiative.