Uganda is a country with a population of over 44 million people. However, just 32 percent of Ugandans have access to a basic water supply, whilst just 18 percent have access to basic sanitation and seven million people practice open defecation (WHO/UNICEF 2019).
22nd March is World Water Day and Nurture Africa's Health Services Manager Geofrey Walusimbi shares the impact that the startling figures above have upon healthcare in Uganda and more specifically health services within the Nurture Africa Medical Centre.
"Water borne diseases, resulting from a lack of access to safe water for consumption and also for sanitation are unfortunately very common in Uganda. People present to the Nurture Africa Medical Centre with a variety of signs and symptoms which include diarrhea, vomiting, fevers and skin problems. Illnesses and diseases such as Typhid Fever, Giardiasis, Shigellosis, Dysentery are Cholera are commonly diagnosed.
In cases where these diseases are poorly treated or not managed at all, the reality is that death can occur".
"Each year, the Nurture Africa Medical Centre receives approximately 9,000 patients due to Water borne illnesses in the Primary Health Care department. This accounts for 45% of the total number of patients treated within this department. The lack of access to safe water and sanitation really is a major concern for the wellbeing of everyone within our communities".
As for the treatment provided by Nurture Africa's healthcare staff....
"Treatment involves rehydration by IV fluids before any other intervention depending on the severity. Laboratory investigations are carried out to identify the exact bacteria or virus or parasite affecting the patient. Once this is completed, doctors will prescribe the treatment according to those laboratory findings".
Are any further steps taken in order to educate patients on how to avoid water bourne diseases in the future?
"If a family has no access to clean water, it is forced to resort to other sources which are not hygienically appropriate. People share water sources like wells with domestic animals and livestock which increases the risk of waterborne infections. Hand washing is also normally inadequate in case of water shortages, hence increasing risks of diseases like typhoid fever".
"There is a lack of knowledge amongst local people regarding water and sanitation programs. The prevalence of poverty and external factors such as prolonged drought which results in the drying up of wells and a shortage of water reservoirs forces families to find water were it can".
There are two seasons in Uganda.... Dry season and Rainy Season. Does the latter result in increase incidence of Water bourne Diseases?
"Rainy season is characterized by increased prevalence of waterborne diseases. Malaria is very common during this period because of the stagnant water in valleys and holes. The female anopheles mosquitoes which transmit the plasmodium parasite, breed and multiply in water and as a result this increases the chances of mosquito bites and incidences of malaria within the medical centre. When treated promptly and correctly, malaria is cureable.
Typhoid and diarrhea are also common during the rainy season. Many communities lack basic toilet facilities like pit latrines therefore fecal waste from bushes dissolve in running water down to the valley and wells where people collect water for home use become contaminated. It is a major challenge".
The roll out of programmes such as Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) can have a significantly positive impact on healthcare services in Uganda whilst their implementation will also ensure that fewer children require treatment and can remain at school whilst adults can continue to work and earn an income.
Water means different things to different people. On World Water Day, consider what water means to you?
How is water important to your home and family life, your livelihood, your cultural practices, your wellbeing, your local environment?
By celebrating all the different ways water benefits our lives, we can value water properly and safeguard it effectively for everyone, everywhere.