Improving basic health services and sanitation to help save lives in Togo

News and Press Release
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By Essi Fafa Soulé

SIRKA, Togo, 11 April 2011 – With all the curiosity of a little boy, Abdoulwassai, 3, eagerly follows the daily activities at the construction site where his father works. Just across the road stands a brown and yellow building, the primary health-care centre in the village.

Abdoulwassai’s father tells him that the building was renovated by UNICEF in 2010. What the boy doesn’t know is that when he was born, his mother could not benefit from basic care at the health centre, because it has no toilet or shower facilities.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for pregnant women and new mothers in Sirka and a cluster of neighbouring villages located about 400 km from Lomé, the capital of Togo.

The situation is about to change for the better, however. The health post in Sirka is one of seven facilities benefitting from a rehabilitation project supported by the Glasgow Rangers football team in the United Kingdom, via the UK Committee for UNICEF.

Strengthened capacity

In this area of Togo, 35 per cent of women still deliver at home in dire conditions. Due to poor infrastructure and limited capacity, pregnant women who come to deliver at most village health posts have to use showers and toilets in adjacent houses, as local households kindly offer their own water supply and hospitality.

In this sense, giving birth is a struggle not just for mothers but for the entire community.

To alleviate this burden, UNICEF is working to improve conditions at Sirka’s health post by providing supplies, renovation and construction, as well as strengthening the capacity of health-care staff. The facility will be fitted with a borehole, a hand pump and a block of latrines with hand washing facilities.

These changes should greatly improve conditions for pregnant women and new mothers.

Safe drinking water is key

Another major concern in Sirka is access to safe drinking water. All too often, children develop health problems from drinking contaminated water. Child mortality due to diarrhoea and dehydration remains high.

In rural areas – specifically, the northern region of Kara, where Sirka is located – a majority of the population has no access to safe drinking water. Village women collect water at local wells up to seven times a day, and even more often if laundry needs to be done.

To get safe drinking water, there are only two options: pay for it from private wells or walk long distances to reach a community borehole, where water is free. To save time, women often prefer to use well water.

But now, the new borehole to be constructed at Sirka post will also serve the neighbouring villages.

“Soon, the conditions of our health-care unit will improve and those who come and seek medical assistance in Sirka will benefit from a healthier environment,” says Abdoulwassai’s father.