Poor sanitation in Embu County schools a hygiene shame
A group of jovial nursery children in yellow and green uniforms burst out of their classrooms at break time ready to relieve themselves and to play.
They all run towards the dilapidated and untidy pit latrines in a bushy and unkempt section of Gatondo Primary School, in Embu County.
After minutes of waiting for one another in a queue to answer the call of nature, they are through with the exercise and ran inside a small building in the compound where snacks and lunch is served.
They retrieve the snacks from various containers which they proceed to eat sometimes using their hands to divide the food into small portions and to share between one another.
Unlike a few other schools, here there are no leaky tins. Leaky tin is a basic sanitary hand washing equipment made of plastic and a rudimentary tap which is used to allow water to flow for washing hands after visiting the latrines.
Several water tanks outside various classrooms at the school are broken down and empty. During this particular day, only upper primary pupils visit a section where there is a large water tank behind the classrooms to wash their hands after visiting the toilets.
Some of the iron sheet walled dilapidated pit latrines reveal they are abandoned. But, just like the ones in use, these too have untidy floors full of various types of waste including rotting leaves, wet pieces of plastic papers as well as other rotting and repugnant smelling debris mixed with human waste.
Most of the pit latrines in use are not easy to access because the wet murky mess created by streams of urine right from the doorstep is disgusting with no water outside for hand-washing.
The scenes of poorly kept toilets at Gatondo Primary School are the same across many primary and secondary schools visited by the Reject reporter in both urban and rural areas in Embu County.
When interviewed, most head teachers and chairpersons of school management boards blame lack of water supply for the poor condition of toilets in schools. However, deeper interrogations indicate there has been a sense of carefree attitude and lack of seriousness in dealing with hygiene.
The picture of basic hygiene in schools and villages across the county is a sorry one.
According to the Ministry of Health Report on “World Toilet Day 2016”, only five per cent of villages in Embu County have achieved open defecation free status yet the national campaign was launched in May 2011.
Basic inquiries in Embu South and North sub-counties reveal that in areas where pit latrines are lacking in homesteads, cases of underage girls being defiled and injured as they go into the bushes in darkness or secluded areas to relieve themselves are high.
The campaign’s roadmap had been set to be achieved by 2013 but was revised onwards with the target to achieve countrywide open defection status by 2020.
According to Health Cabinet Secretary, Dr Cleopa Mailu, the new development frame Sustainable Development Goals, which are two years old presently target to ensure that everyone has access to a toilet by 2030. But nationally only three out of 10 people have access to improved sanitation.
A recent World Bank research revealed that poor sanitation and hygiene cost the economy over KSh27 billion annually which is 0.9 per cent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Dr Nicholas Muraguri, immediate former Health Principal Secretary says that while open defection cost Kenya KSh88 million per year eliminating the practice would require the construction of 1.2 million latrines.
On his part, the Director of Public Health, Dr Kepha Ombacho says that the challenge of open defecation is an issue of equity and dignity and safety particularly for women and girls in most rural areas where bushes are used as toilets.
Since 2014, 33 counties out of 47 have reported an outbreak of cholera, a killer disease which results from use of unsafe water and food contaminated by human waste blamed on open defecation.
But despite all the efforts by the Government and private sector since 2011, only 8,408 have been certified as having achieved open defecation status. According, to Jack Kioko, Director of Medical Service, close to 800,000 households and four million people are benefiting from improved sanitation status.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has spent huge amounts of resources to improve sanitation across the county and has programmes which mainly favour women and children.
According the organisation’s representative in Kenya, Schultink Warner children and women are the worst victims of poor sanitation with germs present in human faeces causing a multitude of diseases including cholera, hepatitis, and polio and worm infections.
Warner says there is a direct linkage between poor sanitation and children’s nutritional status leads to repeated episodes of diarrhoea and worm infection causing stunting and impaired intellectual development.
Sanitation must go hand in hand with nutrition given that research has revealed that it can reduce stunting by 27 percent.
“Sanitation is not just good for health; good sanitation brings countless social and economic benefits. In particular there is the issue of dignity and safety for women and girls. “Lack of private sanitation facilities close to a home or in the school puts them at the risk of harassment, molestation and attacks because they have no choice but to look for relief in the bushes,” says Warner.