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Initiatives: Hygiene and Sanitation

an excerpt from our upcoming website
written by Katie Bush

Problem Statement
Throughout history, the mass movement of people into urban areas has resulted in increased risk to public health. Slums in urban areas are often defined as having low quality drinking water, poor sanitation systems, and little to no household hygiene, all of which are conditions that threaten public health. Poor living conditions in slums are directly related to sanitation. Nearly 64% of slum residences in Chennai are defined as ‘permanent-nature’ slum dwellings, the rest are merely temporary settings1. Additionally, 67% of slum residents live in single room houses. The semi-permanent and condensed nature of living conditions magnify the adverse health effects.

One of the largest challenges to public health in these slum areas is access to potable water; only 26% of the slum population has access to safe drinking water. Hand pumps supply 42% of the population with their drinking water and 31% have access via a tap. In addition, 33% do not have access to latrines. The lack of latrines leads to open air defecation, leading to disease and malnutrition due to parasitic and bacterial infections. Efforts to improve hygiene and sanitation must aim to reduce transmission of infectious agents. It is the goal of this group to investigate the effects of hygiene and health education in these slum areas on human health by carrying out surveys in the communities we adopt. Using this data, we will be able to develop more effective methods of solving sanitation and hygiene problems.

Importance of Sanitation on Community Development
Microbial contamination leading to diarrheal disease is one of the leading causes of death and disease worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2 million children die of diarrheal disease each year. An even higher number of people fall ill due to poor hygiene and sanitation. Those suffering from diarrheal disease are also likely to suffer from malnutrition, impaired physical growth, and reduced immune response. High illness rates result in missed days of work and school for both the sick and those caring for them. Improving hygiene and sanitation will not only improve health, it may also lead to other social benefits such as improved school attendance, less time gathering drinking water, and less time caring for the sick.

Our Approach
Our approach will focus on hygiene education in the home. It is our hope that as people become more aware of the dangers associated with poor hygiene, a shift in behavior will result in improved health. We will also work with the community to promote a clean environment. It is our goal to help the community acquire the means to improve their water supply and garbage removal. There will also be targeted interventions aimed at promoting sanitation infrastructure.

Our Work So Far
Through the course of our educational programme, various lessons on health and hygiene were taught; emphasizing the importance of simple activities such has hand washing and personal cleanliness to children as a first line measure to reduce the transmission of disease. Children were taught, then asked to reinforce their lessons by demonstrating what they had learned to the group and by washing their hands under supervision. During our women’s camp we were able to give women in the slum one-on-one instruction regarding reproductive hygiene. Additionally, dental hygiene was taught at our dental camp.

Plans for the Future
Future work will largely be dictated by the community we seek to help and their specific needs. Health education will always be a main focus of our efforts, regardless of the location and condition of our next project.

To finish the rest of this article, check back on our upcoming website, releasing July 2009.

  1. Chandramouli, Dr C (2003). Slums In Chennai: A Profile. Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Environment and Health, Chennai, India, 15-17 December, 2003. Chennai: Department of Geography, University of Madras and Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University.
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