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Reducing the risk of water-borne diseases

Plan International Haiti works closely with the Ministry of Health to improve the capacity of Haiti’s health institutions’ capacities. The 4 components we focus upon are maternal infant health, water, hygiene and sanitation, nutrition and childhood development, and we carry out a diverse range of activities including mobile clinics, vaccinations for children, nutritional follow-up, de-worming and general consultations.

In the rural area of Jacmel in Haiti, the risk of waterborne disease is high due to poor hygiene, as many households lack a toilet and running water. Very young children are especially vulnerable because their immune systems are weak.

In order to safeguard the health of children and prevent them from contracting life-threatening diseases, Plan International Haiti began a 3 year WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project in 2013, with funds from the Japanese government. One of the objectives is to reduce the practice of open defecation through the CLTS (Community-Led Total Sanitation) approach.

CLTS is a community-based participatory approach which is widely used around the world in order to end open defecation. The basic principle of the approach is not to tell community members to build or use latrines, but let them think about the consequence of open defecation by visualising ‘eating other people’s faeces’. The idea is to make the connection between their hygiene habits and the spread of disease. When this is achieved, the community themselves make the decision to change their behaviour. Neither financial nor material inducement is involved.

The approach works well, although sometimes finance has been an issue and Plan International Haiti is approached to provide subsidies. When such issues arise, we encourage the local concept of ‘kombit’, a Creole word meaning mutual support. We have established and trained several groups in the communities, each with distinct responsibilities but a common objective - to improve hygiene practices to ensure improved health.

“I’m too old and too weak to carry the heavy materials to make a toilet,” said a community member.

“However, thanks to the kind support of the young people in the community who helped me bring the heavy materials up to my house, and the technical support of the trained masons who made the foundation for the toilet, I was able to construct my own. I am so happy.”

Relying on ‘kombit’, community members encourage each other to build toilets, to wash their hands, and to treat their drinking water.  Now they no longer ask for subsidies.

Thus the joint efforts of the different groups in the communities have brought positive and sustainable change to the communities.