World Toilet Day

9 November 2018

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For World Toilet Day 2018, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust’s Trachoma Initiative is adding its voice to the global campaign for everyone to have a safe toilet by 2030.

Around 4.5 billion people live without safely managed sanitation and 892 million people still practice open defecation, according to research by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Exposure to human faeces on this scale is often behind the spread of the bacterial infection which can lead to blinding trachoma.

Repeated infection causes the eyelashes to turn inwards so that, with every painful blink, they scrape the surface of the eye, scarring the cornea and eventually leading to irreversible blindness.

The Trust has been working with members of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control to make major advances towards the elimination of the disease in 12 Commonwealth countries. To do this, the Trust is implementing the World Health Organization-approved SAFE strategy (Surgery to correct the position of in-turned eyelashes, Antibiotic distribution to reduce the spread of infection, Facial cleanliness promotion to prevent transmission and reduce infection, and Environmental improvements to increase access to safe water sources and sanitation). Good sanitation is a priority for SAFE as it is essential for both preventing the spread of trachoma and post-operative care.

Thanks to the commitment of governments and the efforts of our partners, in the last four years the number of people at risk of going blind from trachoma has reduced by over 70 million.

Essential to this progress have been activities which inform and empower communities about the need to protect themselves from trachoma by hand-washing with soap after going to the toilet and before eating.

To date, the Trust has funded hygiene and sanitation campaigns in 47 districts across a number of African countries. These programmes are often delivered to school children who then teach their families and communities what they’ve learnt at school.

A older man stands outside a latrine.

Lepore’s story

Before the Initiative began in Kenya, trachoma was endemic in 12 out of 47 counties, and was mostly concentrated in remote areas inhabited by poor, nomadic communities with little or no access to sanitation.

Through the Initiative, 50,000 Kenyan students have learnt about hygiene and good sanitation and are helping to prevent trachoma where they live. The country is now expected to have eliminated trachoma by 2023.

Zacharia Lepore, a 60-year-old farmer from Osupuko Oirobi Village in the Great Rift Valley only became aware of the link between latrines, hand and face washing and trachoma after meeting pupils from the neighbouring Primary School who had attended the Trachoma Initiative’s School Health Club.

“For the first time in my life, I learned that trachoma is associated with poor sanitation. We used to relieve ourselves in the bush and never thought of the importance of a latrine,” he says.

“The day I met the school children was an eye opener for me. All along I thought trachoma was a hereditary disease from our forefathers.”

After the encounter Lepore began to build a latrine for his family. He dug a deep pit but lacked resources to build the rest of the structure, presuming only permanent materials could be used. When the students returned, they informed Lepore he could use locally available materials for walling, roofing and the door.

“I was still trying to understand how it would work out when the children showed me,” he says. They helped Lepore construct a simple and inexpensive latrine using twigs and branches then installed a hand and face washing facility.

“The latrine has brought dignity and honour to our family,” says Lepore. “I am now a sanitation ambassador in my village and I spread the good news of trachoma prevention.”

Read more about our work in Kenya.