By Bashir Hangi
As political campaigns gather momentum at different levels in the country, we have heard candidates make promises on what they intend to do for the electorate. This is a good measure that gives citizens an opportunity to vote candidates who will deliver services they need most.
Following the campaign promises by most of the candidates, one can say that they have wonderful promises such as roads, industries for job creation, water improving hospitals, overhauling the education system, cutting taxes, improving agriculture, increasing salaries for civil servants, peace and security among others.
Definitely, some of these are good promises and indeed, if implemented, would benefit our citizens.
However, the campaigns and such good promises are being made at a time when we are experiencing a calamity of climate change with some districts experiencing flooding and sanitation-related diseases such as cholera.
Cholera, dysentery, Hepatitis B and a chain of others are preventable diseases caused by taking water contaminated by faecal matter as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene practices.
The right to sanitation is an essential component of the right to an adequate standard of living, inextricably linked to the highest attainable standard of health, and integrally related to the human right to water.
Some candidates have sanitation in their manifestos but we don’t hear them talking sanitation at rallies; they should be examples to their electorate.
Uganda loses an estimated Shs389 annually due to poor sanitation in terms of economic impact as a result of sanitation diseases rendering the affected people unproductive. With sanitation coverage at 77 per cent, the challenge here is not the availability of latrines par se but the changing peoples’ behaviours to make them appreciate use of latrines, the dangers of open defecation and of not washing hands with soap after latrine use.
This is where our candidates at all levels come in handy; let us hear behaviour change messages on sanitation embedded in campaigns.
At rallies, talk about the dangers of open defecation, the importance of hand-washing and of having a latrine. These messages should be aired on radio and television campaign messages.
Candidates can also seek the help of experts to demonstrate hand-washing with soap at rallies because a big number of people actually don’t know how to wash hands; they wet their hands thinking they are washing them.
People who walk kilometres to come and listen to candidates’ messages will surely take and implement some of what they are told.
The Ministry of Health plays its part by applying the integrated disease surveillance and response to manage occurrences of diseases.
The ministry provides drug supplies to all the affected districts during disease outbreaks, which enhances the provision of adequate drug dosage to affected people hence bringing down the mortality in the affected districts. Additionally, the ministry undertakes behavioural change interventions through community sensitisation, which has yielded positive results in terms of disease prevention.
However, sanitation has local cultural beliefs and taboos around it that are hard to change. Solving this problem isn’t as simple as building more toilets and latrines par se.
It requires combined efforts of all stakeholders to relay messages that are culturally appropriate, environmentally sound, and attentive to gender where candidates can play a critical role
Therefore, political candidates should use the opportunity of the large crowds their rallies attract and talk about sanitation in their areas. This will make them more relevant and responsible to the electorate, contribute to the ministry’s efforts of achieving open defecation-free communities in the country and ultimately a healthy population.
The author is a communication and learning specialist, Ministry of Health.
This article is sourced from Uganda: Promote Sanitation, Behavioural Change in Campaign Messages
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