Baby WASH: increasing communities’ awareness through health extension workers

by Hiwot Ghiday, Selamawit Yetemegn, Anina Stauffacher

Sekota Woreda, Northern Amhara region, 5 October 2018– Nigist lives 20km north of Sekota town in the mountainous and remote northern part of Ethiopia. Together with her husband and two children she lives in a one-room rock-built house in the centre of the village. The village is surrounded by rocky crop fields, where the men plough with the help of two oxen.

In early August, during the rainy season, everything looks not lush but pleasantly green. As Nigist takes a seat on a dusty plastic chair, the neighboring children come closer sitting and standing on the gravely dirt curious to hear and see what she is about to tell.

With the youngest child safely on her back, Nigist starts talking about how she cares for him. She explains how she washes the baby’s hands and face three times per day often with soap. “I would always like to wash my baby with soap, but we sometimes find it difficult to afford soap, then I wash him with water only”, she says. “I also wash his body every other day, for my older child it is less frequent”. Nigist’s understanding of the consequences of not properly washing her children’s hands and face with soap seems limited and leads her not to prioritize buying soap rather than other items.

UNICEF in collaboration with the BBC Media Action is currently piloting an EU-funded Baby WASH project in Zequalla and Sekota Woredas, Wag Himra Zone, northern Ethiopia. The aim of the Baby WASH project is to reduce the microbial burden encountered by young children in their play and feeding environments. In addition, the project aims to reduce trachoma and other disease exposure of children and therefore help reducing child stunting [1].

In August 2018, health extension workers were trained to work with the communities to change hygiene practices improving early childhood development. The focus lies on safe disposal of child feces, handwashing with soap, face hygiene, shoe wearing, protective play areas and food hygiene.

During the training, health extension workers learnt about Baby WASH activities and how to work with the communities to effectively change behavior. Listening groups and group discussions at community level using radio recordings are part of the methods the health extension workers use to raise Baby WASH issues in their own community. Additionally, during public discussion led by the local health office, key expectations were raised and discussed.

Debessa, a health extension worker describing the training on Baby WASH activities and how she plans to work with mothers in her community ©UNICEF2018Stauffacher
Debessa, a health extension worker describing the training on Baby WASH activities and how she plans to work with mothers in her community ©UNICEF/2018/Stauffacher

Debessa is one of the two health extension workers in the kebele where Nigist lives. Debessa says: “I know about safe sanitation and hygiene practices, but these interventions focusing on babies and young children are new for me. It is very interesting and I am learning a lot during the training.” Debessa is happy about attending the training together with other colleagues from Sekota Woreda.

She and her colleague working in the same kebele agree: “we are very motivated to go back home and work with the mothers on the Baby WASH, it is exciting. For the handwashing practices specifically focusing on babies and young children, we will connect it to previous handwashing promotion activities. To encourage families to properly dispose child feces, we expect that it will need some time for the change to be effective because this is a new concept for many in the community. And potties are expensive, it isn’t a priority for the families to spend money on potties particularly at this time of the year where families invest most of their money in farming”.

The key actions promoted during the training are summarized in form of pictures with both Amharic and Hemtegna language so training material can be used at community level.

Piloting the EU-funded Baby WASH project in collaboration with the government is a promising way forward to start triggering behavioral change with a focus on pregnant women, babies and children under 3. Shifting from a “have to” approach to a stronger focus of “how to”, Baby WASH requires close integration with existing interventions on maternal, new born and child health, early childhood development and nutrition.

A paper published by UNICEF and John Hopkins University in the Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health highlighted the need to target interventions to reduce unsafe practices of disposal of baby and child feces. UNICEF Ethiopia WASH has included Baby WASH into its strategy for the new country program to contribute to the improvement of early childhood development.

[1] Stunting is a sign of ‘shortness’ and develops over a long period of time. In children and adults, it is measured through the height-for-age nutritional index. In Ethiopia approximately 40 per cent of children are stunted.

MIND THE GAP – BABYWASH Launched on World Toilet Day to Improve Integrated Early Childhood Development in Ethiopia

By Samuel Godfrey

When you travel in a car through Addis Ababa, you will note that adult women and men vary greatly in height. There are tall people and short people. So which ones of these are actually stunted? And why? Scientifically stunting is defined as a reduced growth rate in human development and is a primary manifestation of malnutrition or more accurately under nutrition. The definition of stunting according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is for the “height for age” value to be less than two standard deviations of the WHO Child Growth Standards median.

So how does under nutrition occur? Recent scientific evidence suggests that under nutrition is a result of recurrent infections such as diarrhoea or helminthiasis in early childhood and even before birth. In 2016, UNICEF Ethiopia, published a blog entitled BABY WASH – the missing piece of the puzzle[1]?, in which evidence from a paper published by UNICEF and John Hopkins University in the Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health[2] highlighted the need to target interventions to reduce unsafe practices of disposal of baby and child faeces. To convert this evidence into action, the Government of Ethiopia, UNICEF and partners have developed a BABYWASH implementation guideline. The guideline aims at contributing to improving Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) through improving the baby and child environment.

World Toilet Day 2017: safe disposal of child faeces
Lack of knowledge on the health risk related to child faeces is a key factor behind poor hygiene practices in faeces disposal. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Mulugeta Ayene

The 2017 World Toilet Day was a perfect opportunity to launch the BABYWASH guideline. The document includes guidance on how to implement programmes with safe disposal of child faeces, providing protective environments through play mats and similar measures as well as prevention of soil transmitted helminths. The strategy was endorsed for implementation alongside regular safe sanitation and hygiene practices which are already being promoted by health extension workers. In his statement, H.E Dr Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health of Ethiopia said, “In Ethiopia, there is a common misconception that children’s faeces are not harmful while evidence shows otherwise. The current sanitation and hygiene promotion efforts, at times, overlook safe disposal of children’s faeces. In addition, most toilets are not designed keeping children’s special needs in mind. Hence, I am proud to endorse the Baby WASH manual today which was developed by the Federal Ministry of Health with the support of UNICEF and other partners in order to ensure a healthy environment for children’s growth and development especially those under three years of age.”

Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia on her part said, “UNICEF is pleased to support the Ministry of Health in preparing these excellent guidelines on Baby WASH. We know that a contaminated environment harms infants and young children and puts them at risk of increased child mortality and stunting. Together, we have to ensure that parents and guardians, teachers and community leaders are aware of the importance of Baby WASH.”

According to the Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) baseline survey on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene carried out in eight regions of Ethiopia, there is a general misconception about child faeces disposal. The survey showed that a lack of knowledge on the health risk related to child faeces is a key factor behind poor hygiene practices in faeces disposal. According to the survey, only half (49 per cent) of women knew that child faeces are dangerous to health. Misconception is higher among rural pastoralist women where only 39 per cent said child faeces are dangerous as compared with 50 per cent among rural non-pastoralist women and 54 per cent of women in urban areas. Although it may not be clear who is stunted and who is not just by looking at a child, it’s clear that safe disposal of child faeces helps improve a child’s health. Therefore, UNICEF will continue to support the Government with the implementation of the guideline throughout the country.

[1] https://unicefethiopia.org/2016/05/24/baby-wash-the-missing-piece-of-the-puzzle

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27546207

Baby WASH – the missing piece of the puzzle? 

By Samuel Godfrey

Mustapha and his one year old daughter Meia-Teza Wota Health Center Clinic
Mustapha and his one year old daughter Meia at Teza Wota Health Center ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Getachew

The January 2016 Huffington Post article entitled Why are Indian kids smaller than Africa kids: hint its not race authored by Sanjay Wikesekera, UNICEF Global WASH Chief and Werner Shultink, UNICEF Global  Nutrition Chief, highlighted the link between child stunting[1] and lack of access to toilets. Children growing up in an environment where people are defecating in the open will result in kids crawling around on dirty floors, putting feacally contaminated material and objects in their mouths and ultimately will results in children having high rates of diarrhea which will result in their stunted physical and mental development.

To understand this better, UNICEF Ethiopia WASH team and John Hopkins University undertook a systematic review of more than 1000 peer reviewed academic articles with the aim of identifying interventions that health and WASH professionals can take or promote to reduce the contact of children with feacally contaminated material. The review identified strong evidence on the linkage between open defecation, stunting and early child development (See figure below from Ngure et al (2014).

Picture1

The review also notes good knowledge of how to do hygiene and sanitation promotion to safe disposal of adult feaces but limited evidence on safe disposal of baby feaces.

UNICEF Ethiopia is using the review to design specific Baby WASH interventions that can complement our current Infant Young Child Feeding programmes. Ethiopia has substantially reduced Open Defecation during the last 25 years. In 1990, an estimated 9 out of 10 people were “pooing” in the open and by 2015, this had reduced by 64 per cent to less than 1 in 3 people. However, despite this progress, almost half of children were recorded as ‘stunted’ or not achieving their full physical and mental growth by 2015. The literature suggests that Baby WASH, as we have termed it, may be one of the key “missing pieces” in reducing stunting. Baby WASH comprises of a ‘menu’ of physical and promotions activities which will reduce the exposure of the BABY to ingestion of feaces and ultimately reduce stunting and improve Early Childhood Development.

Watch this space for more details on field evidence on Baby WASH from UNICEF Ethiopia as we work closely with the Government of Ethiopia and development partners to expand this intervention throughout Ethiopia in our new Country Programme of Cooperation between 2016 and 2020. For the time being, UNICEF Ethiopia is using its own financial core resources. Interested development partners are welcome to join this groundbreaking initiative.

UNICEF Ethiopia is collaborating with the US based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of International Health, Program in Global Disease Epidemiology and Control. A researcher from the school was an intern in the UNICEF Ethiopia WASH section in 2015 and has collaborated with the WASH section on producing a paper entitled Evidence on Interventions Targeted at Reducing Unsafe Disposal of Child Feaces: A Systematic Review.

UNICEF Ethiopia’s rural wash activities are supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Government of Netherlands, the Government of Canada and the UNICEF National Committees from Germany, UK and New Zealand.

Dr. Samuel Godfrey is Chief of WASH for UNICEF Ethiopia, and has a PhD and MSc in Civil Engineering and Water and Waste Engineering.

[1] Stunting is a sign of ‘shortness’ and develops over a long period of time. In children and adults, it is measured through the height-for-age nutritional index. In Ethiopia approximately 40 per cent of children are stunted.