The Lao government has declared the end of open defecation in the two districts of Thaphabath and Paksan in Borikhamxay Province. The two districts are the first of their kind to have been declared with this status in the country.
The declaration was made on Tuesday in the attendance of Borikhamxay Governor Mr Kongkeo Saysongkham, his deputy Mr Bounma Bouchaleun, and Director General of the Hygiene and Health Promotion Department of the Ministry of Health Dr Phat Keungsaneth.
Representatives from UNICEF Lao PDR, government agencies, local authorities, village chiefs, and relevant officials also attended the declaration.
The declaration means that all 75,000 people including children and women in the 80 villages of these two districts will now use toilets and avoid practicing open defecation.
The improvement follows the government’s efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene – and thus the health and well-being of communities – in the country.
With the support from Central Nam Saat, the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, the Provincial Health Office and the Provincial Lao Women’s Union, the decision was made to initiate a district wide approach to eliminate open defecation in June 2015.
While several villages have been declared “Open Defecation Free” (ODF) in other districts, Paksan and Thaphabath are the first two districts to be formally declared ODF in the Lao PDR.
This is a life-changing moment for the populations of Paksan and Thapphabath districts as poor sanitation remains one of the biggest barriers to development because of its impact on health and education.
Even before starting school, children are at risk from poor sanitation. Acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases are the main causes of death for children and are related to poor water, hygiene, and sanitation.
Open defecation is a major cause of under nutrition and stunning. The availability and use of toilets is important to the health and nutritional status of children. It is crucial for those living in remote and rural areas to understand the link between basic sanitation and improved health.
The contrast between urban and rural populations using improved sanitation is significant. In the Lao PDR, 91 per cent of urban dwellers use improved sanitation compared with only 48 per cent of people living in rural areas.
Laos is making significant progress in sanitation coverage. However, there is a need to improve access to and the use of these facilities. Creating demand and changing behavior is thus important to address the sanitation problem.
Increased demand along with ensuring access to sanitation products by poor communities will lead to sustained sanitation among poor households in rural areas.
It is estimated that more than 14,000 families in the districts of Thaphabath and Paksan are benefitting from the improved sanitation and hygiene.
However, sustaining this “Open Defecation Free” status will also be challenging for the districts. It is crucially important to maintain the status of ODF and move towards achieving total sanitation which includes use of toilets, hand washing with soap, the use of safe water, the consumption of safe food, a clean house and a clean environment.
They will need to continue their work persuading people to use toilets and practicing good hygiene to prevent diseases. In addition, there is much to be done to reach more villages and districts and to ensure a sustainable impact.
Plans are for more villages to achieve “Open Defecation Free” status by the end of 2016. With the help of Provincial Health Departments and the support of UNICEF Lao PDR, it is likely that all districts in the province will be declared ODF in the future.
Source: Lao News Agency