Friday, April 9, 2010

Sanitation Week Stories

We partnered with the District Water Office in March, in order to do sanitation work in all of the Healthy Villages, in celebration of International Sanitation Week. We were meant to specifically focus in Nabitovu - district officials and a team of 50 university students would go there every day to do house-to-house sanitation education and hands-on work. District officials also planned to visit each of our HV villages, however, so that all were participating in "Sanitation Week." We had already arranged "hands-on days" in each of our other villages, this time the district offiicals would come along for the ride. Part of UVP's annual sanitation goals this year include holding these sanitation 'push' campaigns in each of our Healthy Villages.

The Sanitation Days really began on Wednesday. On Tuesday, to get everything organized and ready, Julius had held a hands-on training with 4 of the university students and a bunch of the VHT members. He went over how to make a tippy-tap, a plate stand, etc. He also helped the VHT members come up with an action plan - for the rest of the week (Wed - Sat), all sanitation workers would divide into 6 groups. Each group would be lead by a VHT member (or perhaps 2), and a UVP or District individual (or perhaps 2), and have around 8 or 9 university students. Over the course of the week, we worked with these teams to ensure that each team was constructing tippy taps that was up to standard, and UVP staff used our bicycles to travel from home to home checking in on the teams. We also provided lunch to the university students, to allow them to put in a full day's work.

In the end, it was an incredible, amazing success! On Friday, I went to the meeting place, knowing that I would find somebody working nearby, and indeed I did: I found Edward, one of the VHT members. He was wandering around with a bunch of Jerry-Cans over his shoulder and a bundle of wire, and he agreed to take me over to Julius's team. On the way from Kasokoso's (the meeting place), we passed house after active house - the entire village had come alive with sanitation work! It was incredible. Houses were being "smeared" (this apparently keeps fleas away), tippy-taps were everywhere, wood was being cut for plate stands and latrines and trash pits were being dug... two individuals stopped us, as we walked the 2 or so minutes to Julius's team, in order to ask Edward about getting a tippy-tap, or wire, or string, or something like that. Edward told me that the whole village was like this - "people did not go to their gardens today," he said. "They have been working since morning, just doing sanitation."

It was truly amazing. It seemed like the university students, district people and UVP staff, had somehow become a critical mass, and ignited a fire of action in the village that was now continuing without us. Everyone is working! Everyone suddenly wants their house to be as excellent as their neighbor's! It is truly inspiring to see.
-- Leah Bevis, Healthy Villages Coordinator

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Malawi and Uganda Consider HIV Status Bill

This link describes a bill being considered in Malawi, but Uganda is actually considering passing the same law.

If passed, the law would make it illegal for a person who knows they are HIV-positive to infect another individual.  The article above mostly focuses on the problems this would pose to sex industry workers - and there's certainly a healthy industry in Uganda who could complain of the same. 

A few months ago, however, a friend pointed out to me an even bigger problem with such a law. (She was referring in our case to Uganda, not Malawi.)  Making it illegal to knowingly pass on HIV essentially makes it dangerous to know that you have HIV.  Not knowing is safer - if you pass it on, you can't get convicted, because you had no idea!  This provides a disincentive for testing, which is the only true way to know if you are HIV-positive.  

Imagine, for instance, that two married people living in a village are HIV-positive.  The woman (lets call her Isa), suspects that her husband (Nsoni) has AIDs, and has passed on HIV to herself.  Isa figures that Nsoni probably contracted HIV in the years after their marriage - perhaps through mere cheating, or perhaps through another wife.  Isa wants to test herself for HIV.  After all, she's still having children by Nsoni, and if she's HIV-positive she wants to take the proper precautions to avoid mother-to-child transmission.  However, to the best of Isa's knowledge, Nsoni has never been tested himself.  So this mean that if she tests herself, she'll be the first one to know that she is HIV positive.  This would allow Nsoni, in the coming years, to prosecute her for knowingly passing along HIV to him - never mind that he's almost certainly the one who had it first, because now it can't be proved either way.  But it would be clear that Isa was the only first one who knew about it (for sure), and especially if she didn't volunteer the results of the test to Nsoni right away, she might be liable under the law. 

I don't claim to be an expert on this sort of HIV related policy, but this was the story that my friend explained to me, in our conversation months ago.  And I think its a worrying one.