Chlorine Reduces Diarrhoea
Margaret Achieng has a magic jerrycan. When the jerrycan entered her house, diarrhoea fled. Now Achieng's village-mates in Rubongi, Tororo, flock to her home daily to drink water from this wonder jerrycan.
Before the jerrycan came, Achieng and her little son, both of whom are living with HIV, frequently suffered from diarrhoea and other illness. The village draws water from an open well, and such wells often carry germs that cause diarrhoea.
To make the water safe, Achieng puts it in the jerrycan and adds a small amount of chlorine, the chemical that the National Water and Sewerage Corporation uses to disinfect piped water. Then she leaves the water to stand for at least 30 minutes before she clears it for drinking.
"The water remains with the same taste. You don't even feel that chlorine is there unless you take it within 30 minutes," says Achieng.
A project of the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) provided the jerrycan and chlorine. CDC also taught how to mix the chlorine with water to make a 1% concentration.
Achieng has five orphans including a little son who is also living with HIV. Because she became open about her status and received counselling and support from TASO and CDC, she and her son are in good condition.
"All the diarrhoea we used to have is not common these days. That boy is now as healthy as any normal child," she says.
Apart from the safe water jerrycan, CDC project officers also provide her little son with regular doses of cotrimoxazole antibiotic to prevent common infections. Every week, a field officer rides into Achieng's home to deliver chlorine and the antibiotic. The officer also checks to see if there is any case of diarrhoea in the home.
"My neighbours always ask me how I manage to keep my life and that of my child healthy. I tell them it is that jerrycan and the medicine that the piki piki (motorcycle) brings," says Achieng.
"They ask me for the water and I give them. That jerrycan is helping the whole village. But when they ask for the medicine I tell them the dose cannot be shared," she adds.
Achieng last Tuesday presented her experiences with the safe water jerrycan, to the United States Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill at the Uganda Virus Research Institute. The US official nodded in appreciation.
Dr. Jonathan Mermin, Director of the CDC programme in Uganda, says they have been testing the safe water jerrycan approach in Tororo.
The pilot trial was based on previous research which confirmed that the addition of chlorine to drinking water in the household could reduce the occurrence of diarrhoea.
Already CDC has noticed a reduction in the number of people suffering from diarrhoea, one of the leading killers of children in Uganda.
The results of the latest Uganda Demographic and Health Survey indicates that nearly two thirds of Ugandans rely on unsafe sources of water. These include wells, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and dams. They could benefit from such interventions.
Mermin describes chlorine addition to drinking water as a "simple, inexpensive" action that could turn the tide of diarrhoeal diseases