Guinea / Guinea-Bissau: driving home the cholera message

In Bafata, Guinea-Bissau, children go door-to-door counting mosquito nets, monitoring hand-washing and checking the distance between kitchens and latrines. The activities are among efforts by health NGOs and authorities to fill the gap between cholera-prevention messages and behaviour, after a 2008 epidemic killed some 220 people and infected at least 13,000.

The national flag is hoisted in front of the cleanest house, and the family is feted in schools and on local radio, Ingrid Kuhfeldt, head of NGO Plan International in Bissau, told IRIN. Plan International, which has been working in Bafata for 15 years, launched the scheme to prevent future cholera outbreaks.

“There is much more competition now on who has the best hygiene materials and the cleanest house – we hadn’t seen this kind of rivalry before,” Kuhfeldt said.

Children also try to dispel hygiene “myths” with families – for example that lemon juice can disinfect water – and show people how much chlorine to drop into a well to clean the water, Kuhfeldt said.

Rather than resenting the children, adults listen, partly because of children’s rising status in society over recent years, according to Kuhfeldt. “[People] have a growing respect for their children having seen them make speeches in front of audiences in schools, heard them on the radio and seen them set up committees,” she said. “They’re starting to realize they can learn from [the children].”

In Guinea, with the support of aid agencies and the local health services, a local radio station in Kindia helps spread hygiene messages through radio spots and village contests. A team from the radio station organizes public games in remote communities, quizzing people on hygiene and cholera prevention and asking people to make up songs on a hygiene-related theme, according to Aboubacar Sylla, head of programming at the station. Prizes include radios, water buckets or farming tools.

“Hundreds of people come out for these activities; people really like it,” Sylla said. “And it is quite interactive; we encourage everyone to talk about the subject at hand.”

Bafata and Kindia recorded no cholera in 2008, despite infections in neighbouring regions.

Source: IRIN, 15 Oct 2009

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