By Samuel Malinga, Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals and Founder of Sanitation Africa

With a population of 43 million people, only 25% people in Uganda have access to improved sanitation facilities with over 84% of people using on-site sanitation facilities like latrines and septic tanks. Also, a majority of latrines or toilets counting to about 64% still get emptied into the environment especially during a heavy downpour. Hand-wash with soap remains a big challenge for many communities with only 28% of the population having functional hand-wash facilities and about 27% use them! The poor sanitation infrastructure and practices are the leading causes of waterborne diseases affecting mainly the girls and children thus keeping children out of school. This has contributed to poor performance and school drop-out in many rural schools. For children under five, water- and sanitation-related diseases are one of the leading causes of death. In Uganda, diarrhea alone kills 33 children every day.

Access to improved water and sanitation facilities does not, on its own, necessarily lead to improved health. There is clear evidence showing the importance of behavior change. The key to increasing the practice of, for example, hand washing with soap and ending open defecation is to promote behavioral change through motivation, information, and education. Sanitation Africa, a social enterprise founded in 2015 is working together with local leaders to create awareness, not only of our products and services but of the importance of good sanitation in communities. Women and girls are especially affected by inadequate sanitation because of gender-related differences – cultural and social. To address the often sensitive subject of girl’s education and menstrual hygiene management, Sanitation Africa employs young women that can, more easily, approach the important subject when talking to communities and schools.

At Sanitation Africa, a couple of messages have been developed to communicate attributes like comfort/relaxation, freshness, health, and dignity that a decent toilet conveys to users. This, however, requires quite enormous financial muscle to exploit the different avenues to deliver information to the communities. We realize that programming right messages in terms of print, audio, visuals, pictorials, drama, is critically important in informing and educating the masses. We need to make use of influential figures such as politicians, social celebrities to break silence on poor sanitation and what needs to be done. In addition, involving cultural leaders, political leaders, use of poems, novels/literature. We do realize further that early programming of a young generation in sanitation aspects is critical especially from schools by entrenching it in the education curriculum, formation of health clubs, modeling among other forms.

Therefore, Behavior Change Communication (BCC) remains an essential tool in influencing attitudes, beliefs, aspirations, and values of people towards good sanitation and also scaling of sanitation products and services in schools, communities as well as households. To have a sustained impact, all relevant actors in the Water and Sanitation sector need to work toward the same goal and measure the same things, and then share lessons learned.