Communities in Gulu appreciate training on disinfecting bacteriologically contaminated drinking water

Brenda Amondito graduated from Gulu University with a Master of Science in Food Security and Community Nutrition on January 11th 2020. Her masters course was sponsored by the Mastercard Foundation through RUFORUM. Upon completion of her course, RUFORUM awarded her a Field Attachment Programme Award (FAPA) grant to disseminate results and recommendations from her research findings whose research area was focusing on “Determination of the effect of solar water disinfection (SODIS) on bacteriologically contaminated drinking water in Gulu Municipality”. The attachment was to promote the use of SODIS technique to disinfect bacteriologically contaminated drinking water in Gulu Municipality and surrounding areas. The four-months field attachment was such a great opportunity to educate the different communities on SODIS technique, but was also educative to her. she shares her story.

SODIS is a simple technique of decontaminating drinking water using energy from sun rays. The technique uses a combination of heat from the infra-red rays and denaturing ability of UV light from the sun to destroy bacteria in water. On a completely sunny day, this technique is effective in achieving 90% of bacterial reduction in water, and up to 2 log reduction on sunny-cloudy day. Thus, this technique could be used in areas where safe piped water is not easily accessed. In Gulu Municipality, piped water is not easily accessible by most of the communities especially in the slams. The most common water sources are springs and boreholes which are used for domestic use by most communities. However, these water sources especially the springs are frequently contaminated with pathogenic microbes from several environmental activities. This is further enhanced by the increasing human population in the area, which have resulted in further contamination from human activities like construction of pit latrines and uncontrolled human wastes. Therefore, there is need for decontamination of the water collected from these sources prior to consumption. Promotion of use of SODIS could help to improve on consumption of bacteriologically safe water at household level considering that it is a low cost and sustainable technique. This is because polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are available in the markets. Furthermore, sunlight is a natural resource that is also readily available. Thus, in areas like Gulu Municipality which receive ample sun light for most of the year, use of this technique would be applicable especially in the rural areas.

Brenda Interacting with community members in Unyama about solar disinfection of drinking water

The dissemination activities were done in the divisions; Unyama, Laroo and Bardege. A total of 168 people were involved in the dissemination activities and these included 67 women, 41 men and 60 pupils from Gulu Town primary school and Pakwelo Primary school.  Also, four village leaders (LC1 and women representative), and three village health team members were involved. At district level, the dissemination activities were carried out with the approval of the Town Clerk of Gulu municipality with the support from Principal Health Inspector of Gulu Municipality.

During the interactions with the various communities, one of the things I learnt from the representatives from the rural communities was that decontamination of drinking water was not considered important and so was done by only a few households. And for those households that decontaminated water mostly used boiling and filtration. Several factors were given for consuming water collected from various sources without decontamination. Among them was the costs of purchasing fuel for boiling and buying chlorine tablets. Furthermore, the community members had the perception that water from underground sources like springs and boreholes was naturally safe for consumption even without any form of decontamination. This is because the water is thought to be filtered of all microbes as it passes through the soil layers. However, the communities were educated that this may not be true for areas with highly aerated soil structure that allow microbes like bacteria to seep through the particles.

Furthermore, ground water is also prone to contamination from the environment and various human activities such as municipal waste disposal. Thus, communities that used these water sources could be at risk of suffering from water borne diseases and so there was need to decontaminate the water. Therefore, the communities were educated on the use of SODIS. However, though SODIS has been used in other parts of the country like the eastern and central parts of Uganda, the technique was not known of among the community members in Gulu Municipality and surrounding areas. In fact, it was the first time for most of them to learn about it. Most of the community members appreciated the technique and showed interest in using it in their homes. Some of the community members were hesitant in using the method. Some of them attributed failure to take up the method to inability to acquire the materials such as PET bottles and iron sheets. Furthermore, those with larger families preferred to either boil or filter their water over SODIS due to reasons that the technique disinfects smaller proportions of water. However, they requested that the technique should be improved so that it could disinfect water in larger quantities to cater for larger households.

Regarding knowledge on waterborne infections, most of the community were informed about some of the impacts of consuming bacteriologically contaminated water. However, they still under looked the fact that diarrhoeal infections from consumption of bacteriologically contaminated water could cause long term health effects. In fact, the community members reported that they had been drinking water from these sources for years without contracting infections. However, it was also noted that most of the children from the rural communities experienced episodes of diarrhoea, which of course could have been caused by several factors including consumption of bacteriologically contaminated water. Therefore, the communities were educated about effects of consuming bacteriologically contaminated water especially to children. Children below the age of five are the most severely affected because of their vulnerable immunity. Thus, contraction of waterborne infections among children below the age of five have been associated with disease associated malnutrition (DAM), a condition that involves constrained absorption of necessary nutrients due to inflammation of the digestive tract. Consequently, this results in both severe acute malnutrition and chronic malnutrition (stunting).

By the end of the attachment, community members appreciated the importance of consuming decontaminated water. They also appreciated the social economic value of SODIS and were able to demonstrate and effectively recap the whole process of the technique. The community members also extend gratitude towards RUFORUM for the dissemination activities which they felt were helpful in improvement of their lives.


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