For many years, people of Chipse Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chitekwere in Lilongwe District were battling hygiene-related diseases such as cholera, dysentery, malaria and diarrhoea.
Many households in the village did not have pit-latrines or mosquito nets and their compounds were not well taken care of. Women were forced to use water from unsafe wells for domestic purposes as the area did not have a borehole close by.
As a result, children kept dropping out of school as most of them never lasted a week without falling sick. Sadly, what mattered to the villagers was survival.
Beliya Phillias, 38, says it was tough for women to focus on developing their families as Nkhoma Mission Hospital was their home for weeks every year.
“I have five children and it was indeed tough to take care of my family whenever a child was sick. With no husband to hold my hand, I had to balance my roles of being a mother and a father to my children,” she says.
Phillias says her farming activities were also usually disrupted and this made the family starve as they failed to harvest enough yield from their farm.
“I had little time to focus on farming which is the only way for our survival. We had to beg for food from neighbours and relatives, which at some point was embarrassing,” she says.
Upon realising the burden of sickness and death that was engulfing the community, chiefs in the area decided to seek help from community health workers.
Fortunately for them, as they were looking for solutions to their problem, World Vision Malawi (WVM) introduced a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (Wash) project which aimed at changing the mindset of the community members through various interventions to transform their lifestyle.
“We started constructing toilets and every household was advised to have rubbish pits and make sure their surroundings were clean to protect themselves from diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea,” says group village head (GVH) Chipse.
He says Chipse is now a model village in T/A Chitekwere’s area where for years now, no cholera case has been registered.
“We now have a borehole which is well taken care of and each household has to abide by the rules to make sure they live in a clean environment,” says GVH Chipse.
WVM director of programmes Charles Chimombo says every year the organisation holds a health sensitisation week where, among others, issues of sanitation and nutrition are discussed with communities.
“We aim to strengthen health-seeking behaviour, especially for women to take their children to the hospital when they are sick and also remind them about the importance of caring for their surroundings to prevent diseases like malaria which for a long time has been killing a lot of people, including children.
“Our interventions also include using the timely and targeted counselling approach which is helping mothers to access messages regarding safe motherhood whilst at home,” he says.
Water and Environmental Sanitation Network (Wesnet) communications and programmes officer Gloria Nyirenda says Wash programmes are so critical to developing countries and need to be prioritised for the benefit of the people.
However, she expresses worry on the inadequate funding the Wash sector gets every year, saying the sector needs about K97 billion to effectively perform and achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 by 2030.
Says Nyirenda: “As a network, we are urging the government to recruit more health surveillance assistants and water monitoring assistants to oversee and track service delivery in the communities.
“On the same, we are facilitating development and implementation of a memorandum of understanding in districts as a means of policing and gatekeeping so that organisations must be held accountable of any Wash facility provided.”
Despite SDG 6 mandating governments to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, to date, some Malawians still rely on unsafe water for domestic use, thereby putting their lives at risk.
According to the United States Agency for International Development, about 80 percent of the population in Malawi has access to an improved source of drinking water, but almost four million people continue to lack access to safe drinking water.
Currently, about six percent of the Malawian population, which translates to almost 200 000 people, still uses the bush to relieve themselves.