Keeping families healthy in South Sudan

MARY NATIE AND SUSANNA PAUL FROM KASIA TELL US HOW PIT LATRINES HAVE CUT DOWN ON MEDICINE BILLS AND LED TO THE HOPE THAT THEY'LL NEVER AGAIN HAVE TO BURY A CHILD WHO'S DIED FROM DIARRHOEA.

Everyone in Kasia was thrilled when they found out that they'd beaten nine other communities to win a sanitation award for every household having a pit latrine. But for mother-of-eight Mary Natie and her friend Susanna Paul, who has three children, being declared an Open Defecation Free (ODF) village also sparked hope that they would never again have to bury an infant whose diarrhoea turned deadly.

No medicines and no money to reach help

“He was vomiting, had watery diarrhoea with blood and he had no power to fight it. He became so weak and died,” says Mary, about her one-year-old baby Anthony who she lost three years ago. She watched him writhe helplessly because the local clinic had no medicines and the family didn’t have the money to take a 45-minute drive into town. “If you can’t afford a motorbike taxi there and back, which is around 100 South Sudanese pounds (SSP), roughly $30, you can lose a child,” she says.

The impact of open defectation

Susanna tells a similar tale of watching her baby boy Kinaregu waste away, unable to stop the vomiting and diarrhoea. “For three days he was sick and on the fourth he passed away,” she says. “I suspect Kinaregu got sick because we had no sanitary facilities. We were using the bush near the house to go to the toilet, and then feeding the baby without washing our hands and there were so many flies that were outside and could have landed on the waste and then contaminated his food,” says Susanna.

Like many mothers in Kasia, before the village took part in a Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) project in 2012, Mary says she used to spend most of her money on medicines for her children. “It was uncountable really the number of times they would get diarrhoea. In one month I could come to the clinic four or five times,” she says. “Now there’s no waste of money. Now we buy salt, clothes and anything else we need instead,” she says.

Now there’s money to afford better food

Susanna says that the money she saves goes on giving the family “something good to eat - which is meat,” an expensive treat when “the good stuff starts at 25 SSP (around $7),” the same price as the oral rehydration salts and anti-diarrhoeal medicines she used to buy constantly. But as she points out, “for meat you can bargain, for medicines you cannot, and the only good medicines are in town,” which can mean the difference between life and death. With less time and money spent on sickness business is booming, everyone is better fed and school attendance is up.

A future where everyone’s healthier

“Now we cultivate so much more than before, as we are so healthy and our children are too, and we no longer need to stay at home to look after them,” says Mary. “I felt so sad when the children were sick as I thought that I would lose them.” “Now my kids understand the goodness of using latrines and they don’t get sick,” she says. Cradling a baby on her lap that flits between breastfeeding and napping, Susanna laughs off the surprise that a new baby is so big. “This is Naboro, she is three months old and she has never been sick. This is how it is now.”

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