Diarrheal diseases are a major problem in northern Ghana, accounting for a large number of infant deaths. The problem has been attributed to unhygienic practices and contaminated drinking water. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Joana Mantey in Accra says a non-profit organization -- the West Africa Water Initiative (WAWI) -- is working with field partners to solve the problem.
WAWI is made up of 13 international organizations working with governments and local partners in Ghana, Mali and Niger to help rural development by providing rural water supplies and sanitation. The field partners are UNICEF, World Vision Ghana, and a local organization called New Energy.
Sumaila Saaka is one of the field partners of WAWI. He works for the World Vision Ghana Rural Water Project to promote behavioral change and good health practices. Saaka said the project identifies ways in which villagers are infected by unclean water and shows how to avoid infection.
For example, Saaka said people carry water from the boreholes in open containers, but "they fetch leaves which are contaminated and put them inside the water. So, before they get to the house the water is contaminated, which means they need to do household treatment before they drink."
People living along streams also contaminate the water with human waste which affects those living downstream.
Saaka said local non-profit organizations and community health workers undertake educational efforts aimed at changing this and other behaviors. He said without behavioral change, new water treatments are not beneficial.
He said people are first encouraged to disinfect drinking water, using "point-of-use technologies" such as aquatab, a chlorine-based water treatment tablet.
"Then we have ceramic filters that remove the particles but do not remove the bacterial component. So you could combine the two, using the filter as well as aquatab," he said.
Saaka said in trying to bring about behavioral change, the field workers often face unacceptable water handling practices that date back in time. People are likely to say, "We have used this water for generations without serious health problems, so why should we change now?"
Saaka said they often encounter resistance, especially among people who say the water treatment tablet is actually a way of introducing birth control. Some also think the tablets are poisonous because of their taste and smell.
Other obstacles include high illiteracy and the low socio-economic status of many households. But the WAWI partnership has chalked up some successes in drilling the boreholes and providing alternate, improved water sources. And experts say that promoting household water treatment and safe storage products will help reduce diarrhea, guinea worm and trachoma due to drinking contaminated water.