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Based on an article published by Alain Tossounon (in French)
With the proud hoist of a symbolic flag, Alétan recently celebrated becoming the first GSF-supported open defecation free (ODF) village in Benin – in a testament to true behaviour change.
This momentous achievement means that the people of Alétan now live in clean, healthy environments, and all households have adequate toilets and handwashing facilities.
According to UNICEF and WHO, 53 per cent of Benin’s population defecates in the open. What’s more is that only 20 per cent of the population have access to improved sanitation, with seven per cent of them living in rural areas. The Government of Benin developed its national sanitation and hygiene strategy to respond to this crisis.
The GSF-supported programme in Benin directly implements the strategy, and is known locally as PAPHyR (Programme d’amélioration de l’accès à l’Assainissement et des Pratiques d’Hygiène en milieu Rural or ‘Improved Access to Sanitation and Hygiene Practices in Rural Settings Programme’).
The ODF celebration took place on 11 April 2017 in Alétan, which is in Bantè Commune, Collines Departement. Together, participants raised a flag in the centre of the village, visited households and shared stories of the journey, which was far from easy. Alétan was the first PAPHyR-supported community to be certified ODF by Benin’s National Directorate of Public Health, after the programme began implementation in March 2016. In total, 345 communities have been certified ODF (referred to as 'pre-certification' in Benin's phased verification system for total sanitation).
“When this programme was launched, we were skeptical about whether it would achieve results in our commune,” confessed the Mayor of Bantè, Innocent Akobi. Welcoming the results and recognizing the GSF-supported programme’s Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, he added: “We can start to solve the fundamental problems linked to hygiene and sanitation when the real stakeholders, who are also the victims, are at the heart of the interventions.”
Lucien Toko, Director of the Cabinet of the Ministry of Health, stressed that open defecation not only creates a breeding ground for infectious and parasitic diseases but also raises morbidity and mortality rates. He noted that 90 per cent of the chronic diseases affecting Benin’s communities, particularly those in rural areas, are due to open defecation and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions. He added that the results from PAPHyR show that it is possible for communities to change their poor sanitation and hygiene practices. “We can say that there is hope and that the Ministry of Health was right to adopt the CLTS approach at the heart of the programme’s interventions.”
Toko stressed that for results to be sustainable, Atélan and other communities should set up local health committees and develop post-ODF monitoring plans to preserve gains and ensure that people follow basic hygiene rules. He also appealed to mayors, local politicians and district health authorities to “work in perfect symbiosis” with PAPHyR.
With a focus on sustainable and equitable sanitation and hygiene, the GSF-supported PAPHyR programme aims to improve health and living conditions for disadvantaged rural communities. The programme covers 27 communes in four departments and began community-based activities in 2016. In addition, PAPHyR works with the Ministry of Health to integrate sanitation into other community programmes focused on nutrition, child development and health. This year, hundreds of PAPHyR-supported communities are expected to be certified ODF.