South Sudan: Sanitation awareness, behaviour change crucial in the fight against cholera

Publié: 28 octobre 2014 22:13 CET

By Afrhill Rances, IFRC

Six months since the outset of a cholera outbreak in Torit County, the South Sudan Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) continue efforts to curb the disease. The Red Cross response is following a dual-pronged approach with three main fronts; ensuring access to safe drinking water, organizing disease prevention education sessions, and promoting hygiene awareness in affected communities with the view of instilling behaviour change.

Although much remains to be done, response efforts to date are bearing fruit as cholera cases have started to subside as families begin to adopt new preventative measures they have learned through health and hygiene promotion sessions.

Regina Sabino Anya, 52, is glad that no member of her family has contracted the disease despite their dire living conditions. The family of ten, including four grandchildren, live in a single-room mud and thatch house, of not more than 10-square meters in area. There is no latrine and the nearest water source is a one-hour walk away. The family was forced to flee Juba, the capital of South Sudan and their home for 20 years, when conflict broke out in December 2013.

“We ran away from the conflict only to be confronted by a different, new, enemy. We cannot run away again, so we will fight cholera and defeat it with the support and knowledge that has been passed on to us by the Red Cross,” says Regina..

Over the past four months, she has been collecting safe water for drinking and other household use from tap stands installed by a water and sanitation emergency response unit (ERU) deployed by the IFRC in the village of Iligum. The ERU, with state-of-the-art water purification and production equipment, is run by specialists from the Austrian Red Cross and Swedish Red Cross.

“Since its deployment in early June, the ERU run by our partners has produced and distributed more than 5.6 million litres of safe water to 7,500 people in Torit, including Regina and her family,” says John Lobor, deputy Secretary General, South Sudan Red Cross. “Our teams have also supported local communities to undertake the maintenance of water supply systems and to rehabilitate damaged boreholes.”

With the ERU now preparing to demobilize, volunteers and staff with the South Sudan Red Cross have intensified their dissemination of messages on proper hygiene practices and creating awareness of basic disease prevention measures. This is a continuation of activities initiated in May, soon after cholera cases were reported in Torit.

According to Phillip Marcello, the director of the National Society branch in Torit, the immediate response contributed to reducing the further spread of the disease, including in Regina’s village.

“Through our dedicated volunteers on the ground, people in affected communities were informed about the good habits they needed to practice, such as boiling or putting purification tablets in water before drinking it. In the evenings, we organized film shows in communities to relay cholera prevention messages, including educating people to put to end the practice of open defecation,” he says.  

Despite her struggle to make ends meet, Regina remains committed to maintaining the good hygiene practices her family has adopted.

“I continue to use purification tablets to treat the water we collect from the river. However, the stocks provided by the Red Cross will soon run out and I do not have income to buy the tablets in the market,” she says. “I can’t take for granted the well-being of my grandchildren because their health, like safety, comes first. I now know how important it is to make sure that the water they drink is safe.”

The Red Cross is calling on partners to support the revised emergency appeal so they can continue to deliver humanitarian assistance to families like Regina’s. “The appeal we launched with IFRC support is seeking 4.8 million Swiss francs, but to date only 1.6 million Swiss francs has been obtained. We ask our partners to provide more contributions to enable us do more and reach further,” explains Lobor. “Until all households at risk have access to safe drinking water, are making proper use of sanitation facilities, and have adopted good hygiene practices, the threat of cholera and other water-borne diseases will linger, especially to vulnerable families affected by the complex emergency.”

Red Cross Red Crescent strictly operates in a neutral, independent and impartial manner to respond to humanitarian needs and to provide support to anyone affected in compliance with international humanitarian law. The International Committee of the Red Cross is leading Red Cross Red Crescent operations in South Sudan with the support of the Movement.