Record of infant deaths in Nigeria has remained a major source of concern to health experts as many say is not improving. A new report recently released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), revealed that nearly 10 per cent of new-born deaths in the world last year occurred in Nigeria. However, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), says there are cost effective ways that could be used to reduce infant deaths in the country, such as access to safe water supply and sanitation.

This, no doubt, could be achieved, if government intensifies efforts to ensure that the provision of safe drinking water is improved upon, both in homes and healthcare facilities in the country – especially in the rural areas. Besides making it possible for health workers to wash their hands and reduce risk of infection among newborns, access to safe water supply will also enable mothers embrace hygiene practices. Experts assure that good hand washing habit will reduce the risk of water borne diseases, flu, food poisoning and health care associated infection being passed from person to person.

Reports have shown that without safe water, health care workers cannot carry out proper infection prevention and control measures and demonstrate safe practices to their patients. According to a midwife, “If a newborn child with a fresh umbilical cord is washed using water from shallow, open wells or unsafe water, the child is likely to be infected with diseases like neonatal tetanus or neonatal sepsis which may lead to death.” A recent visit to Ikot-Esop and Ikot Ukpong communities in Nsit Atai Local Government Areas of Akwa-Ibom State, showed that access to safe water supply could make a difference in child survival.

The people were full of gratitude to the European Union (EU) and UNICEF, for the Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects carried out in their communities to end many years of water scarcity and its attendant consequences in the area. The project which had improved the general well being of the people was carried out in collaboration with the state government. Hence the people, especially the women, said that their problems were over, as their children will no longer be suffering and dying from preventable diseases resulting from the use of contaminated water fetched from the river.

The visit which was organised recently by UNICEF in partnership with the Child Right Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Ministry of Information, revealed that children under the age of five were the worst hit as they were constantly faced with diarrhea. Before the WASH project was executed in the communities, the people said they had no access to safe drinking water. The only source of their water supply was from a small river in the area which had no access road. WASH is also part of the rural component of the Niger Delta Support Project (NDSP) which seeks to mitigate the conflict in the Niger Delta.

One of the women, Mrs. Joy Edem, who expressed gratitude for the gesture said the stress of going to the river alone to fetch water before now was a challenge, let alone its health implications on our children. “Everything about bathing and washing in the home involves the use of water so, we are happy for the WASH programme. The benefit of this safe water supply is so great because our children are no longer falling sick as before. The water has made life easier for pregnant women and nursing mothers,” she said. One mother of six among the jubilating women, Mrs. Ibiok Nelson, said the project has reduced the pain of her children and conflict among them occasioned by water scarcity.

“They always quarrelled among themselves over who would go to the river to fetch water. But since UNICEF and EU made this water available to us, my children no longer quarrel.” she said gratefully. According to data from UNICEF, over 57 million Nigerians still fetch and drink water from rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and irrigation canals.

UNICEF WASH specialist, Martha Hokonya who emphasised that the project would boost the lives of the people in the area – particularly the children, called for more investment in water supply, noting that availability of safe drinking water enhances increased health status. Martha stressed further that poor water supply, sanitation and hygiene causes more than half of global diarrheal diseases, which remains the second leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children under the age of five.
Source: The Daily Times News

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