“Many people around the world desire change in their lives, in their families, and in their
communities but only a select few do actually step up to be agents of the change they so
desire” – Dr Shawn Smith
I am Franklin Ngueiwoh, a final year medical student in the University of Buea. I live in
Sable – Bonamoussadi, Douala. My community is faced with several health challenges, one of which I will be writing about.
One of the major health related challenges we are faced with is sanitation. Sanitation is
the hygienic means of promoting health through prevention of human contact with the hazards of waste. In public health terms, the main source of this hazard is from human and animal faeces. Other sources include solid waste and domestic wastewater. Thus, any intervention that seeks to separate these waste from humans is termed sanitation. Sanitation or sanitatory interventions could be in form of hardware e.g. hygienic latrines or software in form of hygiene practice such as hand washing with soap.
Mara et. al. (2010) opined that “Sanitation is the safe disposal of human excreta” defining ‘safe disposal’ as the hygienic containment or treatment of the excreta to avoid adversely affecting human health. Sanitation in itself is a wide topic which includes a variety of subjects from waste disposal to personal and environmental hygiene. In my community our challenge is waste disposal.
Cameroon has an entity in charge of waste disposal known as HYSACAM. They normally pass by all houses in the community collecting household waste for safe disposal.
Unfortunately, they are not always available. As a result of this, people heap up waste and dispose of it on the roadside. Some go as far as dumping waste into a nearby stream.
The stream has become so full with dirt that the water can barely flow. Imagine a
stagnant stream; one which was once a clean flowing water body is now stagnant, hence
a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This has been going on for several years and now the
entire community is mosquito infested; not to mention the flies and other insects that
come from the waste dumped on the roadside.
This has become a growing concern in my community with several adverse effects
1. Increase in the quantity of mosquitoes, with the ripple effect being the increase of
the incidence of malaria in the community. Malaria affects the health and wealth
of the community; students stay away from school, parents stay away from work,
the financial burden on the parents is increased, just to name a few.
2. Air pollution, as the people in the community tend to get rid of the dirt in their
own way by burning. Paper, plastics and other materials contaminate the air
when they are burned. Over time the chemicals can build up in the ozone layer. If
they contain toxic chemicals like dioxin, they can reach the air that people
breathe and cause a public health risk. Garbage that is disposed of improperly can
also begin to release methane gases. According to the Energy Information
Administration, these gases are greenhouse gasses that can destroy the earth’s
ozone layer and contribute to significant climate changes.
3. Since some of the waste materials are waterproof, they can be dangerous to the
aeration system of the soil hence hindering agriculture. It also leads to the
reduction of fertile cultivatable land in form of dumping sites.
4. Waste materials are toxic if consumed by animals. Poor solid waste has also led
to the death of animals (especially domestic animals). Death of animals like cattle
leads to poverty and the death of animals like dogs, leads to insecurity in homes.
5. Poor domestic waste management also displays an ugly scenario of the
environment. This can affect the tourism industry, as the tourists may not get
attracted to visit the community.
6. It can also lead to human injury. The waste material also often contains broken
glass and other sharp objects which are potentially dangerous to people coming
in contact with this waste. Hanks (1967) and Techobanoglous et al. (1993) traced
the relationship of 22 human diseases to inadequate solid waste management.
7. Diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, salmonellosis, plague, hepatitis, chronic
respiratory diseases can spread due to poor management of solid waste. Thus
unhygienically disposed waste in the community poses a serious health hazard to
all who dwell there in.
8. In particular, organic domestic waste poses a serious threat, since they ferment, creating conditions favourable to the survival and growth of microbial pathogens. Direct handling of solid waste can result in various types of infectious and chronic diseases with the waste workers and the rag-pickers being the most vulnerable.
9. Exposure to hazardous waste can affect human health, with children being more vulnerable to these pollutants. In fact, direct exposure can lead to diseases through chemical exposure as the release of chemical waste into the environment leads to chemical poisoning. Many studies have been carried out in various parts of the world to establish a connection between health and hazardous waste.
The effect of improper waste disposal cannot be overemphasized. The list is inexhaustible. It is therefore surprising as to how little or nothing is done with respect to this potentially life-threatening situation. It may seem little and could even go by unnoticed but this is a challenge we face and have been facing for as long as I can remember.
As an integral part of this community I am very concerned about this issue and would
propose the following solution/strategy;
a. Sensitization. There is a growing need worldwide for people to be aware of
various issues affecting them. Sanitation is one of them. Sensitizing my
community on the need and the how of good and proper waste disposal will go a
long way to avoiding the problem.
b. Seeking administrative assistance to ensure that the governmental bodies in charge of waste management do so adequately and regularly.
c. Do a community wide campaign to clean up the dirt already present and to place
charges on whosoever is caught inappropriately disposing waste. The more
involved they are the more effective it will be.
“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going
to be part of the problem.”
– Eldrigde Cleaver
Franklin Nkengafac NGUEIWOH is a a final year medical student in the University of Buea. He lives in Sable – Bonamoussadi, Douala. He is the winner of the 2nd Editor’s Choice Award of the Dr. SEA Essay Contest Award 2016.