Miss Gifty Atampugbire, a final year student of the School of Public Health, University of Ghana, Legon, has broken the boundaries of the usual “submit and forget” final year projects, by going on the grounds to communicate her findings to study subjects, and to help improve their lives.
On Wednesday, 16th January, 2019, Miss Atampugbire visited Bolga Senior High School where she took the students through Behaviour Change Practices on Open Defecation, a solution she found from data analysed in her project work.
“This initiative was borne out of a passion for public health sensitization. I believe nursing shouldn’t be limited to the confines of the hospital environment but should go extensively to the doorsteps of community members”. According to Miss Gifty Atampugbire, she will extend this program to all senior high schools in the region.
This initiative, inspired by her undergraduate research on open defecation (OD), is part of her attempt to ensure that the findings of student research are actually put to use to better society, and not left to gather dust on the shelves of lecturers.
Open defecation (OD) refers to the practice whereby people go out into fields, bushes, open water bodies or other spaces, rather than using the toilet, to defecate (UNICEF 2017).
Open defecation remains a very big health and environmental hazard in many developing countries in Africa.
About 2.4 billion people globally still lack access to improved sanitation and about 946 million practice open defecation. Meanwhile, in Ghana, 27% of the populace are engaged in OD due to lack of latrines.
Upper East region has been ranked first as the region that is mostly engaged in open defecation amongst the ten regions in Ghana.
“I have been engaged in various health sensitizations ranging from STIs prevention and treatment, personal hygiene campaigns, Public health nutrition etc at Basic schools, tertiaries and on social media for the past 5 years”.
“When people are given the right information relating to their health and the environment it empowers them to make informed choices, live healthy lives and stop activities that endanger their health”.
Why a project on OD?
As a final year student of the School of Public Health-UG, Legon, it is required that each student presents a project work in paper for the award of a bachelor’s degree in Public Health.
I looked around as usual thinking of what to do that will result to impacting lives and effecting healthy practices in my region, Upper East.
Then I saw an article online (on one of the news portals – A1 radio) about Bolgatanga Senior High school also known as BIG BOSS engaged in open defecation although there were toilet facilities in the school. I realized at this point that the solution was behaviour change.
Though the project has not been marked yet, from the data analysis, I realized most of the students had no reason why they defecate openly. Which means it’s voluntary. And if voluntary then something had to be done to curb this menace that is eating up the region already.
Theme for the program: Behaviour change practices on open defecation among students in second cycle institutions – Upper East Region.
According to Miss Gifty Atampugbire, she will extend this program to all senior high schools in the region in other to help effect positive health practices.
She called on teachers and authorities concerned, to periodically check on the state of school toilets and endeavour to work on faulty or spoilt ones.
Students were encouraged to make good use of available toilet facilities and also clean them regularly to ensure that they are healthy and comfortable for usage which will go along way to ending OD.
Students were taken through the Health Belief Model – a model which, according to Miss Gifty Atampugbire, seeks to understand why people engage in practices that are harmful to their health, as well as lead them through a behavior change towards open defecation.
She kick started the program by putting students into a group of 5, called the Pretest stage, where students’ knowledge on OD, its causes, effects and solutions were tested, followed by a student led presentation on the outcomes of the discussion.
She commended students for their excellent contributions and suggestions and admonished that the way forward was for students to make conscious efforts to stop OD and practice latrine use.
Still on the way forward, she advised parents to teach children to practice and adhere to using toilet facilities at homes.
She advised the public to desist from the social norm that OD is easy and normal but rather focus on the dangers the practice pose on the lives of everyone especially young children and the aged.
“We must treat public built latrines like our own only then can we handle them well for sustainable usage”.
She charged all health professionals especially Public health nurses and environmental health and sanitation personnel in the region to take up the challenge and conduct massive public education and sensitization as well as periodic monitoring to ensure the region is declared Open defecation free.
She called on government and other benevolent organizations to support in building more toilets for second cycle institutions to ease the burden on the already few existing toilet facilities.
She suggested to custodial law makers to help in the fight against OD by integrating OD messages into already ritualized cultural practices. Such as, “No loo, no bride”.
She charged school authorities and other leaders of organizations to set up reminders and posts about OD to serve as warnings.
She also pleaded with students all over the country especially tertiary students to endeavour to leave a mark or impact on the lives of people through their project or thesis work.
She was worried that most students abandon the subjects or people understudied for their projects even after gathering useful information that can change their lives.
She encouraged her fellow students to share findings from their project or thesis to the right offices as this will go a long way to impact lives and cause positive changes.
By way of intensifying and practicing what she took the students through, she presented cleaning equipments and detergents to the school, received by the Assistant Headmaster.
The Assistant Headmaster, Mr Awasinab Stephen, thanked Miss Gifty Atampugbire for taking it upon herself to be an agent of change. He added that they will ensure what has happened today never dies off and asked that she visits again to see the change she’s fighting for.