Diarrhoea, leading cause of child deaths

BY: Arku Jasmine

Diarrhoea remains the third cause of death among children under age five, accounting for 10,000 deaths annually.

The alarming rate of deaths is retarding efforts by government in achieving the Millennium Developemnt Goal (MDG) target of reducing by two-thirds, the less than five years old mortality rate and halve by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

This was made known by the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, Akwasi Oppong-Fosu at the beginning of a three-day West Africa Regional Workshop on household water treatment and safe storage in Accra. The workshop is themed “Scaling-up HWTS- National Policy Environment and Integration Strategies”

Diarrhoea is spread through the faeco-oral route and is caused by eating or putting items contaminated with faeces into the mouth. Symptoms of the disease include vomiting and passing of loose stool and can cause dehydration within a very short time.

WaterAid Ghana estimates that 80% of all diseases in the country are caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, with over 9 million Ghanaians lacking access to improved water sources; hence only about 13 per cent of the population has access to adequate sanitation facilities.

In his address, the Local Government Minister lamented about the situation, noting that, “Our health facilities continue to record periodic cholera outbreaks in some urban areas and small towns.  For example, in 2012 we reported 9,548 cholera cases with some 100 deaths.”

He also indicated that according to the country’s 2009 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report, less than 8% of Ghanaians treat drinking water before using.

“This is not encouraging at all and I know the picture is not too different from what pertains in most African countries. This indicates that the issue of safe water at the point of use should be taken more seriously in our various countries than we have done over the years,” he added.

He gave the assurance that government was conscious of the benefits derived from the effective practice of household water treatment and safe storage, and had therefore put in place a strategy to guide its implementation at the household level.

Unsafe drinking water, along with inadequate hygiene and sanitation, contributes to an estimated 1.9 million annual deaths globally, which includes children less than five years of age.

While countries work to provide universal access to safe, reliable piped-in water, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have called for targeted, interim approaches that will accelerate the health gains associated with safe drinking water for those whose water supplies are unsafe.

One of such approaches is household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) to prevent contamination during collection, transport and use in the home.

Already, evidence shows that the use of HWTS methods improves the microbiological quality of household water and thus reduces the burden of diarrhoeal disease in users.