Water, Sanitation and Hygiene ‘challenges’ facing disabled Malawians

People with physical disability in Malawi names water, sanitation and hygiene facilities as the most challenging things to access in their daily lives.

You can see how unhappy I am with water shortages
You can see how unhappy I am with water shortages
Sian White
Sian White

Anecdotal results from Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Disability study done in Rumphi district in the northern part of Malawi by two English Universities and two Malawian universities, reveals that every single one of the participants in the study is facing at least one barrier, failure to access to good water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

The study which focuses on kinds of barriers that people with disability are facing, involved 35 people with physical disability who each one of them was given a camera and asked to take five photos of the biggest challenges that they face in their day to day life.

“What emerged from those images was that many people took photos of sanitation and hygiene challenges and problems of accessing water,” revealed Sian White, a Research Assistant from the Environmental Health Group- Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

She said participants weren’t told in advance that it was a study on WASH and they ranked these problems as their biggest priority.

“And it was interesting how predominant these issues were,” she added.

“There is something that all of us can do to address this issue. I think as community members we need to be looking out for the different sanitation needs and the different water needs that other people in our communities might have. Listen to people with disability and ask them what their challenges are,” White appealed

As the final results from the study are yet to be known towards the end of the year, the project has already designed some simple low cost intervention to improve the situation through Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) which Sian White said have yielded quite a lot of positive response.

She said: “We have seen people with disabilities involved in designing their own toilets and sanitation facilities that best suit their own needs.”

Among the proposed designs for the sanitation facilities includes; a simple stool or a chair with a hole which a person with disability can sit on while using the toilet and user friendly water sanitation facilities.”So this is hopefully not one size fits all model.” She added

She also mentioned that some communities in Rumphi have formed disability support groups of local savings and loan society where the proceeds finance the building of toilets for the people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, the Chairperson for Lilongwe District Disability Forum, Juma Mkandawire also a Research Assistant in the project has emphasized that communities must wake up and begin to support people with disability by having in their homes or communities a water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that people with physical disability can find them user-friendly.

“We need to wake up, we must start to build toilets and sanitation facilities which are user friendly to people with disability so that they don’t put their lives at risk when they use or try to access them,” he said. “The problem is huge in the country as the study has established. Because of poor structures, some disabled people have to crawl in toilet which is very unhygienic, in the process putting themselves at risk of infection”

Mkandawire however, has expressed hope that the study will go a long way in helping to address challenges being faced by people with disability.

On 7th October, through the project, both Sian and Mkandawire had a dissemination of the findings through photo exhibition of the preferred water and sanitation designs and other images taken by people with disability at Lilongwe Shopping Mall car park.

Sian said photos are much more engaging way of telling people stories, therefore, the exhibition was an act of finding for opportunity where people can walk past, think about these issues and stimulate interesting discussions. She also mentioned that they also engaged with policy makers and implementers in the WASH and disability sectors to see how these findings can influence their work.

It is expected that if the trials of the intervention achieve good results, the project will scale up across Malawi.

The WASH and Disability study began in 2014 and is expected to come to an end in mid 2016. It is collaboration between London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, WEDC, Mzuzu University and the Centre for Social Research and the University of Malawi. The study is being funded by Australian Aid and Federation for the Disabled People in Malawi is also among partners in the research.

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6 years ago

Poor my country!!!!! Up to two universities to come up with this result of poor sanitation and other problems.

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