Rwandan officials have embarked on a nationwide campaign to improve hygiene and sanitation in homes, a week after malnutrition and poor hygiene conditions dominated the recently concluded leadership retreat.
Rwanda Today has learnt that local officials are now targeting households without toilet facilities; those sharing accommodation with livestock as well as treating stunting children in their latest bid to address hygiene and sanitation.
However, concerned households are citing prevailing poverty, water problems as some of the factors hampering their adoption of better hygiene and sanitation practices.
Deep in the village of Ntyazo sector, Nyanza District, 65-year-old Sylivestre Misago has been visiting the health post to nurse jiggers, a bug infestation widely believed to be a a result of poor hygiene which attacked his hands and feet, together with members of his family.
“My health was starting to improve when I visited the health post last week. They gave me a basin with some liquid to soak my feet in,” he said.
Manasseh Nkurikiyinka, a 60-year-old resident in Bukoroto village, Gikonko Sector, is unable to move properly as his hands and foot are visibly deformed due to jiggers.
He became slightly irritated when questioned about treating his condition, but said he had started applying Sumicombe — a pest control substance — after Sector officials summoned him.
They all admit to having not paid enough attention to their hygiene, but they are not alone. Nyanza District officials admit having over 120 jigger victims, some of whom have to be forced to undergo medical treatment.
In Nyanza District and the neighbouring Gisagara District, many residents can be seen walking barefoot and shabby on the streets without fear of shame.
Many live in single-roomed stark-mud walled houses, and keeping livestock under the same roof is commonplace, potentially allowing the jigger bug and other ailments to thrive.
Households in villages across the Nyanza and Gisagara Districts without toilets or having inadequate facilities, were given a week to improve. This is after a door-to-door inspection was carried out a week before.
In two separate cases, a nine-member family was found using a three-metre deep manhole, that was left exposed to the public as there are no walls around it.
“We thought about borrowing some mud bricks to construct walls around the toilet, but we are unable to afford iron sheets for the roof. My husband makes Rwf700 ($0.81) per day for feeding a family of four,’ said one of the resident.
Lack of clean water
Residents said the hygiene situation was getting worse due to a prolonged lack of clean water, which exposed the residents to unclean water sources.
Thomas Rekeraho said the five villages of Rusebeya, Muhero, Kamabuye, Muyenzi and Munyiginya have been without water for the past six months due to the delayed rehabilitation of the water systems that supply both Ntyazo and Kibirizi Sectors.
“Residents have to wake up as early as 4am to queue at the sole ground water tap that is located in the valley. Without rainwater, it is difficult to talk about hygiene in this area,” he said.
While the rehabilitation of the water systems is understood to be underway, local officials in both Nyanza and Gisagara admit these issues are a result of laxity and lack of better monitoring to sustain efforts of previous hygiene campaigns where individual households affected by jigger infestation and those without toilets were identified and solutions found.
“People placed emphasis on other things and thought these were minor issues that did not deserve more attention. We have given ourselves until end of March to deal with all of them effectively,” said Erasme Ntazinda, Nyanza District Mayor.
A District assessment shows over 4,200 households had no toilet facilities while another 2,000 households have facilities that are in a bad condition and need improvement.
“We are going door-to-door and shall provide assistance for cases where it is really needed,” Mayor Ntazinda added.
The campaign is expected to take place in various parts of the country. It is also looks to tackle other health-related issues like malnutrition where stunted children could be put on intensive medical care while providing nutritious food supplies to affected families.