Tag Archives: Guinea

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

West Africa: Stopping cholera emergencies

Cholera outbreaks in West Africa generally trigger extra hand-washings in households and panic-buying of bleach for treating water. But beating the deadly – but easily preventable – illness requires that such hygiene practices become routine, health experts say.

Researchers with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) say knowing the drivers behind behaviour and tying hygiene messages to those impulses is crucial for preventing cholera, which has become a recurring health emergency in West Africa.

“If we want sustainable change we need to make sure people practice things so they become habits,” Jeroen Ensink of LSHTM’s environmental health group told IRIN.

One way for aid agencies to do so, he said, is to dissociate hygiene messages from cholera – which is seasonal – and link them instead to general diarrhoeal disease.

Ensink also said it might be time to “re-brand” hygiene and health messages, as knowledge of cholera’s causes does not always translate into new habits. “Hand-washing messages need not be just about health; they can be about: if you want to be modern, to smell nice, to be attractive to the opposite sex, use soap.” The use of proper latrines can be linked to privacy instead of just proper hygiene, he added.

LSHTM has studied the impact of government and aid agency prevention and preparedness measures in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau as part of a project funded by the European Commission humanitarian aid department (ECHO).

Coherent

The ECHO project aims to build a more coherent approach to cholera control with sound preparedness and early response. And ECHO says ‘quick impact’ actions in vulnerable communities should be accompanied by longer-term prevention measures.

To date, emergency and development strategies fail to address the disease properly, lacking common objectives and complementary actions, ECHO says.

ECHO is focusing on Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, where cholera has become endemic; during 2007 and 2008 over 23,000 people were infected and 560 died in the two countries.

But all of West Africa is highly vulnerable to cholera and a regional approach is needed; ECHO and its partners will study lessons from Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to see what might be applied more widely.

As part of the ECHO-funded project UN Children’s Fund and NGOs are training local health workers in responding to cholera, boosting communications strategies and developing emergency kits, which include sanitation and water purification materials, to keep outbreaks in check.

[T]o be effective anti-cholera actions must not be merely reactive, health experts say. LSTHM researchers observed in Guinea-Bissau that while most people could recite verbatim hand-washing and other hygiene messages, they apply them consistently only when cholera strikes. Changing such behaviour takes years, not months, said LSHTM’s Ensink.

Source: IRIN, 15 Oct 2009