Saving Ethiopia’s adolescents from the scourge of parasites

By Fanna Minwuyelet

Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, Ethiopia, 23 February 2016 –Tesfatsion Alemayehu wants to be an engineer someday, but the 14-year-old girl has trouble concentrating in school. She is often dizzy and light headed and complains of a stomach ache.

Tesfatsion likely has worms.

Intestinal worms and bilharzia are rampant in Ethiopia and children suffering from these afflictions are often too sick or tired to go to school or concentrate. In the long term, the result is malnutrition, anaemia, stunting and even impaired cognitive development, all of which result in poor educational achievement.

So one day in February, Tesfatsion is standing in line at her Gurmu Koisha school where she will receive a de-worming tablet from the local health extension workers.

The tablet will take care of Tesfatsion’s worms which could be schistosomes that cause bilharzia and are carried by snails that live in fresh water. Once the worms are gone, she will be able to concentrate in school again.

Integrating Nutrition, Water and Sanitation Behaviour Change Interventions

The programme, which is funded by EU-SHARE and implemented by local authorities and UNICEF, is much more than just giving pills, however. In the shade next to where the students are lining up, trained nutrition club members are conducting games that impart key nutrition and hygiene lessons.

These activities, known as behaviour change interventions, help the students understand the benefits of the tablets and teaches helpful nutrition and hygiene practices that can minimize future parasitic infections.

For her part, Tesfatsion particularly likes the “Who am I?” game in which students learn about six common iron-rich food groups. Learning about which foods contain iron is especially valuable for young girls like Tesfatsion as they start menstruating.

Schools as gateways to behaviour change

14 years old Tesfa Tsion , 10th grade, takes medication for intestinal parasites. Gurumu Koysha primary and secondary school, Wolayta, Boloso Sore Woreda, SNNPR.
14 years old Tesfa Tsion , 10th grade, takes medication for intestinal parasites. Gurumu Koysha primary and secondary school, Wolayta, Boloso Sore Woreda, SNNPR. ©UNICEF ETHIOPIA/ 2016/ Meklit Mersha

Samson Alemayehu, the head of the health bureau at Boloso Woreda, where Tesfatsion lives, said his department is working with the schools to provide these services.

“We believe that Behaviour Change Communication interventions that take place in the schools by health and nutrition clubs play a big role in increasing awareness in the community, particularly on basic hygiene sanitation and optimal feeding,” he said.

The Health Bureau implements the program through the Health Development Army, which is present in every community and the 1-5 network, in which one person is responsible for five others.

The programme supports the integration of water and sanitation as well as nutrition education into the large scale de-worming campaign in 436 woredas across the country.

It also supports the de-worming specifically of adolescents in high schools in 86 woredas in Amhara, Oromia and SNNP regions free of charge.

“I need to attend all the classes and study hard to make my dream a reality,” said Tesfatsion.


Ethiopia’s reduced child mortality rate

Not so very long ago Ethiopia had one of the worst child mortality rates in Africa but it’s managed to slash the death toll by two-thirds, three years ahead of the Millennium Development Goal’s (MDG’s).

On a recent interview with CCTV, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, Ms. Gillian Mellsop, said “The key heroes in reducing child mortality by two third in Ethiopia are the 38,000, mainly women government salaried, health extension workers in addition to the political commitment and the vision of the government and sustainable funding.”

See the full programme which was aired on CCTV below:

Ethiopia commits to meet millennium development goals in water and sanitation by 2015

Istahi Sohane, 28, mother of 4, divides her precious water at her home in Yahas-Jamal Keble in Somali region of Ethiopia
Istahi Sohane, 28, mother of 4, divides her precious water at her home in Yahas-Jamal Keble in Somali region of Ethiopia 11 February 2014. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ose

Two and a half billion people – over a third of the world’s population- live without adequate sanitation facilities. Nearly 800 million people still do not have access to an improved source of drinking water protected from outside contamination. Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), a global partnership of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners, seeks to address these problems.

The 2014 SWA High-Level Meeting (HLM) was held on Friday 11 April 2014 at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC. Convened by UNICEF, the meeting was attended by Ministers of Finance from developing countries, accompanied by their ministers responsible for water, sanitation and hygiene sectors, as well as donors, civil society and other development partners. Ethiopia was well represented by ministers from the country’s water, health and education sectors.

2014 SWA HLM
Sanitation and Water for All High Level Ministerial Meeting 2014. Credit: SWA/Kristoffer Tripplaar

The meeting was opened by a high-level panel including the SWA Chair, John A. Kufuor, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, President of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Executive Director, Mr. Anthony Lake, and Ethiopia’s Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Sufian Ahmed.

The objective of the meeting was to outline an ambitious and yet achievable vision for the sector by linking WASH and sanitation to the economic growth agenda and by communicating with finance ministers about how to best achieve ‘value for money’ as well as emphasising the importance of making investments that improve sustainability and equality.

During this meeting, 44 SWA partner countries made 265 new smart commitments in three main areas:

  • Greater attention to sustainability
  • Strengthening national monitoring systems beyond household surveys to include institutional WASH facilities
  • Focus on urban sanitation

The 2014 meeting demonstrated the highest level of global commitment to water and sanitation issues. Ethiopia was highly prominent in the meeting and was the only country to have water, health and education ministers present, which was relevant, as these sectors have been placing significant emphasis on institutional WASH implementation in schools, health centers and public institutions.

In the only presentation made by a host country during the 2014 HLM, Sufian Ahmed highlighted how Ethiopia is working to combine resources from development partners to meet the Millennium Development Goals in water and sanitation by 2015. The presentation was well received by Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and the members of the panel.

2014 SWA SMM
The Sanitation and Water for All Sector Ministers’ Meeting 2014. Credit: SWA/Kristoffer Tripplaar

A day before the HLM, a Sector Minister Meeting (SMM) was held on 10 April and was facilitated by UNICEF. Ministers from 54 countries and global directors of key development partners attended the meeting to discuss their countries’ high-level commitment statements, which had been prepared by each country. The SMM meeting enabled ministers to interact informally, agree on a summary of commitments, and dialogue with other SWA constituencies.

In its statement of commitments, Ethiopia laid out its vision of how it is working to improve health and wellbeing in rural and urban areas by increasing water supply and sanitation access and by adopting good hygiene practices in an equitable and sustainable manner. The country is determined to reach targets set out in the Universal Access Plan (UAP) by 2015, aiming at 98.5 per cent of the population having access to water. Ethiopia is also targeting to achieve universal access to basic sanitation, thereby eliminating open defecation nationwide, as well as aiming for 77 per cent of the population to wash their hands with soap or ash at critical times.

The meeting also reviewed progress against the 2012 commitments and discussed and confirmed the 2014 and 2016 commitments. Ministers noted that 40 per cent good progress had been made to a total of 415 commitments made by all countries in 2012. Impressive gains were also made in commitments related to financing and planning. Greater focus is still needed on the commitments related to private sector participation and decentralisation. The 2014 commitments for Ethiopia included greater focus on urban sanitation and a need to strengthen the overall monitoring and evaluation system of the WASH sector.

UNICEF Ethiopia, Chief of Water and Environmental Sanitation, Samuel Godfrey attended the High Level Meeting in DC and reflected on Ethiopia’s role and what the future holds for water and sanitation in Ethiopia.