The Upper West Regional Health Directorate has pointed to a dire connection between open defecation and the alarming rates of malnutrition among children in the country. The practice of open defecation, deeply rooted in certain communities, is exacerbating an already critical issue of childhood malnutrition, leaving health officials grappling for effective solutions.

Open defecation, the act of relieving oneself in the open environment rather than using a toilet, has long been a concern in Ghana. Despite extensive efforts by the government and NGOs to promote proper sanitation and hygiene practices, the practice continues to persist in some regions, primarily due to infrastructural limitations and traditional beliefs.

Mr. Yussif Abubakari of the Nutrition Unit of the Wa Municipal Health Directorate voiced his concerns about the link between open defecation and malnutrition during a Regional Inter-agency Coordinating Committee on Sanitation meeting in Wa.

“You can have good food to eat, but when there is an infection, the nutrients cannot be absorbed properly. When there is open defecation a lot of it goes into the streams where people fetch water from, and you can get infections through that and when there are infections the absorption of nutrients within the human system is affected. Once your system cannot absorb all the nutrients directly from the food, it means that the body will not get the required quantity of nutrients to function as required,” Mr. Abubakari explained.

Mr. Abubakari indicated that children suffered Open Defecation because they needed more nutrients to grow and once their system could not absorb it from the food as a result of infection resulting from Open Defecation, that would create a nutritional gap leading to undernutrition conditions such as stunting and wasting among children.

Malnutrition has been a long-standing challenge in Ghana, particularly among children under the age of five. According to data from the 2022 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey, 18% of children under age 5 are stunted, 6% are wasted, and 12% are underweight. These statistics underscore the urgency of addressing the root causes of this crisis.

Malnutrition not only affects physical growth but also has significant implications for cognitive development and immune system strength. Children who are malnourished are more susceptible to infections and are less likely to perform well in school, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

According to Data from the Environmental Health and Sanitation Department (EHSD), 815 out of the 1,167 communities in the region had attained Open Defecation Free (ODF) status with 13 ODF communities recorded in 2022 while no community had attained ODF status in the region in the first half of 2023.

Mr. Dennis Menance Bayuo, the Upper West Regional Focal Person on WASH, called for stakeholders to collaborate and address environmental issues in the region to improve the health and well-being of the people. He emphasized the need for increased a well-coordinated interventions between the stakeholders to improve the sanitation situation at the community level including access to household toilet facilities.



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