Water Sanitation Health

Sanitation challenge: Turning commitment into reality

Focusing on youth and using education

Well-designed education programmes to demonstrate the link between sanitation, hygiene, health and economic development can contribute to increasing demand for improved sanitation. Hygiene promotion campaigns are most effective among younger populations, and students can be targeted both as beneficiaries and as agents of behavioural change within their families and their communities. Hygiene education should be included in school curricula, together with the provision and maintenance of sanitation facilities at school premises. These are essential elements of marketing campaigns in schools.

Providing separate sanitation facilities at schools for boys and girls can help to keep girls in school longer. The long-term benefits of education – especially for women – are well understood. Educated mothers are more likely to adopt healthy hygiene and sanitation behaviours – and consequently have lower infant mortality rates in their households.

The increased interest in water, sanitation and hygiene in schools to contribute to a safe and healthy learning environment is a positive development. Special steps must be taken to accelerate and coordinate progress on water, sanitation and hygiene programmes in schools.

What can we do?

National governments can invest in sanitation in schools; pay for training of teachers to deliver effective hygiene education; create incentives for schools to do more in-house; fund national education and awareness campaigns aimed at children and young people; and create legislation to require schools to provide separate toilet facilities for boys and girls.

District/local governments can invest in sanitation in schools; find ways to use the expertise of health and infrastructure professionals in the education department; and create incentives for schools and teachers who improve sanitation access or deliver effective hygiene promotion.

Communities and civil society can actively support schools in their efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene; campaign for more public funds for sanitation and hygiene promotion; create connections between social organisations focusing on youth and those that focus on health; and endorse and further reinforce hygiene messages delivered in schools.

Households can lobby schools for better sanitation facilities and hygiene education; keep their children in school (both boys and girls); use good sanitation and hygiene practices in the home; and can find ways of raising resources to support schools in this effort.

Entrepreneurs can provide free or subsidised services in schools in their own communities (this will not only have a direct positive impact on children’s health; it will also increase demand for sanitation in the house); and endorse and reinforce hygiene messages delivered in schools.

We’re inspired by…

During the past decade, school sanitation and hygiene education has been an integral part of more than 72 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) country programmes. Since 2000, UNICEF has been actively promoting two major school sanitation and hygiene education projects: a pilot project in Burkina Faso, Colombia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Viet Nam and Zambia focusing on the development of approaches to promote life skills, a healthy and safe school environment and outreach to families and communities; and a project focusing on school sanitation and hygiene education issues in specific states of India. All these efforts are supported by the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre.
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FRESH (Focusing Resources on Effective School Health), an initiative of WHO, UNICEF, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank, aims to create an environment in schools and in basic education programmes in which children are both able and enabled to learn. The four components of the FRESH framework for action are: health- related school policies, provision of safe water and sanitation, skills-based health education, and school-based health and nutrition services. FRESH advocates three types of supporting activities: effective partnerships between teachers and health workers and between the education and health sectors, effective community partnerships, and pupil awareness and participation.
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WHO, together with various partners, established a global alliance to tackle environmental threats to children’s health, including inadequate sanitation and hygiene. Through advocacy and information sharing, the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance (HECA) aims to raise awareness, with the goal of informing and influencing policy- and decision-makers on effective measures for protecting and promoting healthy environments for children. One of the key areas of focus is creating healthy settings in schools, including the provision of separate sanitation facilities for boys and girls.
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… hygiene and sanitation education in Nepal
In Nepal, hygiene and sanitation messages are incorporated in the school curriculum on health education. Since it was felt that regular practice is needed in order to make sanitation education more meaningful, a sanitation package was developed to facilitate the design and implementation of a sanitation programme at primary-school level. It has five major components: habit formation and hygiene and sanitation education for students, construction of sanitary facilities at school, use and maintenance of these facilities, organising extracurricular activities and events, and a school-to-community programme. Teachers are encouraged to reinforce discussions by practical demonstrations, repetition of messages during prayer sessions and sport events, on-the-spot correction of unsanitary practices and stimulating the use of sanitary facilities such as latrines and garbage pits.