DEAR EDITOR, an overview of health in the Solomon Islands remains characterized by high levels of infectious diseases, including malaria, respiratory diseases, water borne diarrhoea diseases and an increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The latter, as I have consistently written about, because of changes in diet and lifestyle habits.
Among the major determinants of population health are water quality and sanitation. I have no updated figures, but the 1999 census found that 69 per cent of households had access to a safe water supply, ranging from a low of 42 per cent in Guadalcanal to 95 per cent in the Honiara Municipal area. Overall 52 per cent had piped water of some sort, 22 per cent used rivers and streams while 16 per cent used water tanks. Access to safe sanitation was much lower, with only 23 per cent of households reporting that they had modern toilets.
Lack of adequate water and sanitation contributes to a high national rate of diarrhoea, and also to the high prevalence of stunting and underweight among children. In 2002 the Community Peace Restoration program funded 92 water and sanitation projects – mostly water tanks.
Two newspaper reports last week, both published in the Island Sun newspaper, tended to underscore the statistics I have just mentioned.
The first report concerned the terrible state of the ablution block, consisting of a dilapidated leaf hut structure at the Tulaghi clinic. A shocking facility being the only one existing and extensively used by postnatal patients, children, parents and personnel of the Labour Division.
The current situation was reported to have existed for nearly two years and the conditions said to have increasingly raised great concerns for the health and welfare of patients and especially for babies and children.
It is very much hoped that the reporting of the deplorable state of the ablution block will bring about some immediate action to provide proper and sanitary ablution facilities at the Tulaghi Clinic.
The second report I read related to a speech given by the Deputy Prime Minister when he was quoted as saying, “My government is totally committed to ensuring that every child in my country has access to basic water, toilet and hygiene facilities in schools.”
The Hon Manasseh Sogavare was speaking during the launch of the National Standards on WASH (a project development on water supply, sanitation and hygiene) for schools.
The Deputy Prime Minister took the opportunity of thanking the government of New Zealand and UNICEF for supporting ongoing WASH projects in 42 schools in Guadalcanal Province.
Mr Sogavare also said, “I am happy to note that two main ministries – Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education dealing with water and sanitation have converged here to align their priorities on WASH in schools.”
Ending his speech, he mentioned that he looked forward to more collaboration between the government, UNICEF, donors, bilateral organisations, NGOs, academia and other institutions to collaborate and address WASH concerns in schools with a priority to achieve the SDGs on water and sanitation.
It is my wish, too, that there will be greater collaboration as Mr. Sogavare mentioned to achieve much better water and sanitary conditions in all schools and across the whole country.
It should not be forgotten that women are the primary users and managers of water, sanitation and hygiene education at the household level. The participation and engagement of women will be necessary to ensure initiatives and activities in water supply, sanitation and hygiene are successfully implemented and sustained.