Our heroes: two public health students take Healthy Start to Niger

4 min read
Halima (left) and Amina (right).
Image: WaterAid/Moumouni Kimba Alfari

Healthy Start is WaterAid’s campaign, in partnership with health professionals across the world, to ensure quality healthcare for all by 2030. Moumouni Kimba Alfari, Programme Manager for WaterAid Niger, describes how the campaign is gaining momentum in Niger.

Halima (above left) and Amina (above right) are students in Environmental Hygiene, in the Professional Degree class at the National School of Public Health in Zinder, the second largest city in Niger. The National School trains health professionals, and the Zinder School is the only one that trains hygiene specialists.

For Amina, WaterAid’s ‘Healthy start’ campaign is really critical for Niger and particularly for Zinder, and will help raise awareness among the population and health professionals of the crucial importance of water, sanitation and hygiene to quality healthcare.

Halima added: "For me it is a call from the heart and a plea toward the authorities to ensure a fair and healthy start for every child in Niger and at a low cost. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure and, here, the initiative to upgrade health centres in terms of access to water and sanitation and to promote good hygiene practices in health centres is an essential act of prevention."

Magnitude of the problem

In Niger, the under-five mortality rate in 2012 was 114/1,000 and the annual number of deaths of children under five years old was 91,000. Despite the efforts made and the progress recorded since then, the situation is still very worrying, with an estimated 96 child deaths per 1000 livebirths in 2015. This is due to, in large part, the lack of adequate water and sanitation, and to inadequate hygiene practices in health centres.

Lack of water, hygiene and sanitation is a general problem across the country and is specifically accentuated in rural Zinder. Most communities and health centres do not have adequate provisions to meet water, sanitation and hygiene needs. This has a great impact on the health of populations in general, and on that of newborn babies in particular.

There is evidence to support that infection-related infant deaths could be reduced by 27% by improving handwashing practices in health facilities, and a further 40% by handwashing in the postnatal period. Handwashing with soap in healthcare facilities is poor globally. A recent study by the World Health Organization and UNICEF of 60,000 facilities in 54 low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) found that only 34% had soap available. Even in high-income settings where water and soap are available, doctors and health workers are estimated to only wash their hands on less than 38% of occasions as defined by WHO.

Amina and Halima’s engagement in the campaign

Back at the National School of Public Health in Zinder, Amina and Halima are aware of the situation in Niger and are committed to fighting infant and neonatal mortality through awareness-raising among communities and health professionals.

As part of the ‘Healthy Start’ campaign in Niger, WaterAid Niger has partnered with the National School of Public Health and the Association of Midwives of Zinder. This campaign was launched over two days in October 2016 in the commune of Doungass, Region of Zinder. During the two days, Amina and Halima were the main facilitators of the awareness caravan carried out in three villages of the commune. They demonstrated an unwavering commitment to awareness-raising activities during the commemoration of Global Handwashing Day, which was concurrently organised with the launch of the campaign. Our two students were also volunteers for the collection of petition signatures from health professionals in the municipality of Doungass. They have collected a hundred signatures in support of Healthy Start.

Hopes for the future

Our two heroines told us that they are comforted in their choice of studies and are ready and committed to a healthy start for every child in Zinder and in Niger as a whole. They are confident for the future and intend to contribute to the development of Niger through commitment right now and once their studies are completed.

It is heartening for WaterAid to meet and collaborate with young people like Halima and Amina, especially since our intervention approach encourages us to mobilise local communities for the causes that concern them and to generate leaders who become their voice. We are pleased to know that our two heroines will continue their actions, even after the end of this campaign, for a lasting change in health centres, as well as for adequate advocacy toward authorities, whenever necessary, no matter their place of duty.

Hopefully other Halimas and Aminas will appear across the country, helping bring a healthy start for all children in Niger.

If you are a health professional such as a midwife, nurse or doctor, and would like to join our global Healthy Start campaign for quality healthcare for all, please sign the petition at www.wateraid.org/healthprofessionals.