World Water Week 2017: The importance of water in the fight against blindness

1 September 2017

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As this year’s World Water Week draws to a close, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust highlights how access to clean water and good hygiene helps prevent the spread of blinding trachoma in the Commonwealth.

Trachoma is the world’s leading form of infectious blindness. It is caused by a bacterial infection that is easily transmitted from person to person, usually by  dirty hands or faces. If the infection is not treated, it causes scar tissue to develop under the eyelid which eventually causes them to turn inwards.  With every blink, their eyelashes scrape the surface of the eye, scarring the cornea and can lead to irreversible blindness.

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (the Trust) funds several large-scale programmes that work with local communities to promote healthy behaviour, such as teaching the importance of handwashing with soap after going to the toilet and before eating. Each programme has the overarching objective of helping people develop lifelong hygienic behaviours that will eliminate trachoma once and for all.

These programmes often focus on school children because learned behaviours are usually formed in early school years. Children are influenced by their friends, and in turn, they can act as change-makers by taking messages and behaviours they’ve learned at school back to their families and wider communities.

Deputy Head Teacher, Thomas Lochi, show his pupils how to wash their hands and face at the AIC Lomil Primary school in Turkana, northern Kenya.

Deputy Head Teacher, Thomas Lochi, show his pupils how to wash their hands and face at the AIC Lomil Primary school in Turkana, northern Kenya.

In Kenya, the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative supports school health clubs which teach children about the importance of face and handwashing, as well as other healthy practices. During the clubs, students who employ good hygiene practices are rewarded. To help foster long term behaviours, posters and face cloths are given to families to help remind caregivers to keep children’s faces clean. To further reinforce the importance of water in the fight against blindness, schools also display hygiene messages on murals that explain what trachoma is and how it can be prevented through hand and face washing.

A boy washes his hands after going to the toilet at the NaurenPuu Primary School just outside Turkana, in northern Kenya.

A boy washes his hands after going to the toilet at the NaurenPuu Primary School just outside Turkana, in northern Kenya.

This year’s World Water Week has focused attention to the global water problems we face today and has highlighted the need for organisations to come together to address these issues. The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust is proud to work in collaboration with partners and invest in programmes that have a positive impact on the lives of individuals, communities and countries right across the Commonwealth.

Find out more about what we do: http://www.endtrachoma.org/what-we-do/

Photo credits: Sightsaver/Karel Prinsloo