Ministry of health to tighten laws on unhealthy habits
Is it true men are biggest offenders when it comes to unhealthy habits?
It is not clear yet if the abhorrent act of urinating on one of Kampala’s streets by Arua Municipality MP, Ibrahim Abiriga has anything to do with it, but the Ministry of Health wants to increase fines for people who violate such public health laws.
Officials from Environmental Health, a department in the Ministry of Health say that Cabinet has approved a memo on reviewing fines payable by people like Abiriga who are nabbed violating public health laws.
When he was nabbed urinating on a Ministry of Finance fence along Kyaggwe road in Kampala on September 25, 2017, MP Abiriga was charged with being a public nuisance. in City Hall Court, on prompting by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) law enforcement agency, and was subsequently fined UGX40,000 only.
But the Ministry of Health plan is part of a larger campaign, according to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Diana Atwine, aimed at ensuring that individuals and households maintain hygienic practices that ensure they are not a threat to public health.
Atwine said: “We are going to introduce very strict public health laws at every level and districts must put by laws to make sure we have quick self-intervention. Spreading diseases must be a public health crime, why would one construct a house and ignore a latrine?”
Atwine observes that behavioral changes must be emphasized to ensure that the public primarily takes charge of its health affairs. She also argues that if prevention is emphasized by every individual in the community, the huge amount of money that goes to buying drugs to treat preventable diseases, would be saved and possibly used to on constructing high-tech health facilities and paying health workers better.
“The disease burden is still high yet we don’t have enough resources to tackle it but we can avoid this by collective responsibilities right from our homes. Most of the diseases we are spending on most of our resources are preventable, we just need to utilize all these platforms to provide prevention information to our people,” Atwine added.
She was officiating at a breakfast meeting that was organized by Environmental Health that was held on Thursday March 29, 2018 at Lourdel Towers in Kampala.
Julian Kyomuhangi, the Head of Environmental Health, under the ministry of health, 75 percent of diseases in Uganda are preventable and most of them are environment related, a strong pointer that embracing disease prevention is one of the major keys to a healthy population.
“We are in the process of reviewing fines for improper or no use of toilets. A Cabinet memo has been developed to effect this,” Kyomuhangi noted adding that, “One of the goals of Environmental Health Division is to have 100% construction and effective use of sanitation and hygiene facilities at household levels.”
She highlighted the fact that if communities and individuals eliminated open defecation and adopted other better hygiene practices such as hand washing, on top of having a latrine, much of the disease burden would be avoided.
According to Environmental Health’s report from the Uganda Sanitation Fund (USF), approximately 5.6 million people from Teso-sub region and West Nile in over 9,000 villages live in Open-defecation free (ODF) environments, and have adopted good hygienic practices.
She hailed this as a major step in realizing the National Development Plan II objective of increasing access to quality social services basing on Uganda’s Improved Sanitation and Hygiene (ISH) strategy.
Lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation remains one of the biggest health concerns especially in overcrowded places such as slums and refugee camps.
The situation is being complicated further by the growing refugee problem in many parts of the country especially Northern Uganda, where disease outbreaks, including acute diarrhea/cholera is imminent. Without toilets and sanitation services that properly dispose waste and safely treat it, the lives of more than a million South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan in northern Uganda remain at risk.
Grace Kyagaba, the water, sanitation and hygiene coordinator with the Uganda Red Cross highlighted the crucial role that toilets play in keeping diseases at bay.
“Toilets play a fundamental part in ensuring that communities in such settlements remain healthy. This helps to ensure that human waste is not spread and water sources remain uncontaminated,” said Grace Kyagaba.
She said her organization has helped to build over 600 latrines to support families with access to hygiene and sanitation facilities.
Additional facilities such as digging trenches to move water runoff, fumigating camps and installing rubbish bins, among others by volunteers, has helped to keep diseases at bay.
Kyomuhangi stressed: “We want a Uganda where everyone has an improved latrine (well built with tight cover) and use it without force, most of these disease outbreaks are as a result of not accessing proper hygiene, people refusing to wash their hands after visiting toilets, end up feeding on their s**t and that is cholera already.”
Kyomuhangi quoted the Minister of Health Dr, Ruth Aceng who was addressing Parliament back in July 2017 as having appealed to opinion leaders to encourage washing hands after visiting toilets. She said men are biggest offenders when it comes to washing hands and their bad habits help to spread many preventable diseases such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery.”
Gerald Kitonsa, a trader and former civil servant in the Ministry of Health hailed the plan to use to use the stick to beat people into shape saying: “This is a great move, there is need to amend the Public Health Act to integrate a provision that lays out disciplinary measures for people living in households without toilets or pit-latrines. One of the things the ministry must do urgently is to revise this fake Public Health Act to put punitive measures for people without latrines and toilets”
“The Local Governments have a duty to make by-laws that enforce and ensure that there is 100% toilet and latrine coverage in their areas. But these politicians, especially district chairpersons fear to take action against their voters. In the end, nothing is done. That is why there is need for this provision in the Act,” he concluded.