Ghana has been ranked 2nd to Sudan in the practice of open defecation. Considering Ghana’s repute on the international scene, this achievement is a dent on the reputation of a country referred to as the gateway to West Africa. In Ghana, three out of five people practice open defecation and in the last 25 years Ghana has only made 1% progress to eliminate the practice. It is estimated that if the rate at which strategies, interventions and laws are being implemented remains the same then it could take 5 centuries to eliminate the practice in Ghana.
This article will illustrate the linkage between open defecation and malnutrition, and why it is necessary to abolish the act as soon as possible. Literally, every three out five Ghanaians practice open defecation which has direct impact on nutrition with children being highly at risk. Annually, 4000 children die due to poor water and sanitation and 23% of Ghanaian children suffer chronic malnutrition.
Open defecation aids the spread of communicable diseases such as cholera, dysentery, etc. Fecal matter are known to contain many kinds of pathogens including but not limited to protozoa, viruses and worm larvae. These pathogens can be transferred to healthy hosts and there are several ways that this happen. For instance, the pathogens can be passed on to food when hands are not washed properly after defecation. The pathogens can also be picked from the soil by crawling children and introduced into the mouth. The most likely to occur is when fecal matter is washed by running water into a water body that serve as a drinking water source to people, thereby exposing the users to harmful pathogens. Once, the pathogens enter the host, they attach themselves to the walls of the intestines. The intestines in a state of defense, expel a lot of water which leads to diarrhea. As a result, nutrients that are important for heathy growth leave the body without being assimilated into the walls of the intestine. A repetition of this process cause the structure and nature of the wall to change, making it difficult for anything to be absorbed by the intestines, including the nutrients. At a long run, the host becomes malnourished or dies due to lack of essential nutrients and excessive loss of fluids.
Now I believe the link between open defecation and undernutrition is clear. Other negative impact of open defecation are, increase in risk of assault of children and women, lack of financial growth among vulnerable families, etc. This situation is very worrying, right? Yes, it is but solutions exist that can prevent the problem. With access to improved toilets, diarrheal diseases can be reduced by one-third and washing of hands with soap and water halves the risk. Hence, an investment in an improved toilet is an investment in development.
Open defecation cannot be defeated without access to improved toilets facilities by all. We know the solutions, so it is now a matter of political will, funding and behavioral change. Let us be that generation that removes Ghana from the list of countries practicing open defecation.
Jacob K. Amengor
Senior Content Creator & Environmentalist