Janjangbureh — Health experts under the eigis of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, in collaboration with the inhabitants of the Central River Region on Sunday staged a maiden commemoration of 'Open defecation-free communities', designed to promote sanitation through a community-led programme.
Funded by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the celebration was characterised by a match past, speeches, drama, cultural performance and certification. The occasion also recognised the hard work of at least 12 communities in the region that have used Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) as a strategy to attain the open defecation-free objective.
Addressing the celebrants, the governor of the region, Ganyie Touray, explained that the Community-Led Total Sanitation programme is a key approach used to motivate and mobilise millions around the world to discourage open defecation and promote the use of latrines as the most appropriate way of human waste disposal. He pointed out that The Gambia, with an estimated population of 1.6 million inhabitants, is challenged to meeting Millennium Development Goals 7 for sanitation and the reduction of under-five mortality rates. The governor disclosed that under-five mortality has decreased from 131 per 1000 live births to 112 per 1000 live births over a period of five years (MICS111 and 1V).
However, he lamented that too many children continue to die as a result of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. He also associated such diseases with poor sanitation and hygiene, which account for 56% of under-five deaths according to World Health Organisation's Report of 2010.
The governor also commended UNICEF for its foresight in initiating this community-led approach to sanitation in the country, and urged everyone to adopt the strategy to achieve the set goals.
Speaking on behalf of the UNICEF country representative, Musa Drammeh said the celebration was a testimony of The Gambia government's continuous commitment towards achieving the MDG target for basic sanitation.
Drammeh revealed that in many parts of the world, including The Gambia have adopted the CLTS approach for wider rural sanitation. The CLTS, he indicated, is a non-subsidised approach to sanitation that aims to eliminate open defecation through social and behavioural change. He said since the adoption of CLTS in The Gambia in 2009, the country has witnessed a decline in open defecation rates.
The chief public health officer, who doubles as the CLTS national focal person, Sanna Jawara, said Community-Led Total Sanitation was piloted in 29 communities in URR in 2009. He explained that the approach is a process which starts with identification and assessment of communities for open defecation, followed by the development of community action plans for abandonment of open defecation practice through construction of latrines in each compound/household. He asserted that tremendous improvement has been registered since the establishment of CLTS.
Jawara called on others to join the fight against the practice of open defecation through the promotion of latrine construction in schools and communities. He then emphasised the need to continue focusing on sanitation improvements through CLTS, as it has the potential to significantly reduce diarrhoeal morbidity by 36%.
The regional director of Health Service, Jankoba Jabbi, for his part, assrted that CRR is the biggest region in the country with challenging health problems including sanitation. The region, he explained, is divided into two; namely Kuntaur and Janjangbureh local government areas, and that it is also among the most vulnerable areas in terms of under-five mortality rates.