Source: Business Daily
27 July 2011
Nothing would give Kepha Ombacho more delight than to achieve 100 per cent sanitation in Kenya.
Mr Ombacho, the chief public health officer at the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation is the man behind the implementation of reforms in the country to enhance hygiene. He says his dream will come true when every Kenyan acknowledges the link between preventable diseases and poor hygiene and work towards a cleaner and healthier society.
“Most diseases affecting Kenyans are preventable with proper use of toilets and hand washing,” said Mr Ombacho who had just arrived from the African Conference on Hygiene and Sanitation (AfricaSan) in Kigali, Rwanda.
Kenya was named among the top three countries in Africa that have achieved desired levels of sanitation.
The parameters of consideration were wide, including a measure of the various reform policies and strategies to the actual programmes in place to improve sanitary facilities in Africa.
Since his appointment to the position in 2006, Mr Ombacho has been heading a team at the department of environmental health focused on addressing the issue of accessibility to toilets; the key to victory in the war against diseases caused by poor hygiene.
Statistics available five years ago indicated that about 48 per cent of the country’s population had access to toilets both shared and unshared.Three years on since the adoption of a sanitation policy, the health ministry estimates that 73 per cent of Kenyans have access to the facilities.
But the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), a global organisation, lowers the estimate to 34 per cent.
“What happens with the JMP is that they do not take into consideration the shared facilities. Their data is restricted to toilets per household and not facilities in schools and other public areas where they are shared,” said Mr Ombacho.
According to the 2008/09 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey report, less than a quarter of Kenyan households used an improved toilet which is used by members of a single household only while 12 per cent of the population had no toilets at all.
According to Mr Ombacho, focus has been on enuring proper disposal of human waste either through improved or shared facilities.
Improved accessibility to toilets and access to safe drinking water have reduced incidence of disease in areas that were previously hard-hit by water-borne diseases–an achievement that put Kenya ahead of other countries that had entered the competition for the awards.
It is the first time that Kenya has won since the launch of the AfriSan awards three years ago.
Stakeholders in the health sector have attributed this success to public- private partnerships in sanitation notably, the hand washing campaign launched a year ago between the government and Unilever through its Lifebouy brand that also scooped the Guinness Award.
Lack of centrally co-ordinated data has in the past hindered decision-making and led to duplication of activity in some areas while others were ignored.
Having championed the creation of an information hub at the Ministry of Health which was launched in May this year, Mr Ombacho is optimistic that decision makers and partners will have easy access to comprehensive data from which accurate decisions can be made. In addition to activities and projects to boost sanitation, the hub also captures achievements made. It is expected to draw a clearer picture of areas that have benefited and those that need action for easy allocation of resources.
Mr Ombacho’s strategy has had remarkable success, but challenges remain that threaten to erode the gains made. For example, insufficient and strained budgets are the main reasons Kenya has turned to public private partnerships and to donor support for sanitation projects.At the Rwanda conference, despite their achievements, Kenya and the host country were cited as lacking tight monitoring systems and failed to reach the required 0.5 per cent of the GDP budgetary allocation for sanitation.”We have not been able to measure even near 0.5 per cent of the GDP that is required as the minimum allocation to sanitation. This has slowed down activity as sourcing for support and money take times and can be challenging,” said Mr Ombacho.
Since the adoption of a sanitation policy that gave priority to areas worst hit by incidents of cholera like Western and Nyanza provinces and informal urban settlements, 700 open defecation free villages have been set up in these areas.
To achieve a target of at least 2,000 such villages, Mr Ombacho and his team will be mainly relying on community systems to understand the relationship between poor sanitation and disease spread. Difficulty in tracing landlords has also slowed down efforts to connect structures in informal settlements to sewer lines.