Drinking, eating, washing, excreting – these are things we do every day of our lives. But the way we do them can have a major impact on our health. Good hygiene practices are an essential part of daily life and we all need to understand what hygiene means, why it’s important for our health and wellbeing, and how we can change our behaviour to safeguard our health. Promoting good hygiene in your community and educating people in ways to protect themselves and their families from ill health is one of the most important aspects of your work.
The significance of hygiene and environmental health is recognised in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDG). One of the MDG targets is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Recent reports suggest that good progress has been made towards reaching that target, but there is still a long way to go. The World Health Organization (2008 data) estimates that, worldwide, there are 884 million people without access to a safe water supply. These people are dependent on rivers, lakes and other unprotected sources for drinking, cooking, food preparation and all other daily needs. An even greater number, 1100 million people, do not have access to latrines, toilets or other forms of improved sanitation. This has a major impact on health. Globally, 4 billion cases of diarrhoea occur every year and 88% of these can be attributed to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
In Ethiopia, the public health importance of hygiene and environmental health is indicated in the Constitution and the National Health policy. The Ethiopian Constitution states that ‘All persons have the right to a clean and healthy environment’ (Article 44/1). The Constitution further states that all Ethiopians should have ‘access to clean water, housing and food’ (Article 90/1). The Ethiopian National Health policy considers that hygiene and environmental health is one of the cornerstones of the strategy for the promotion of health and wellbeing. More than 80% of communicable diseases in Ethiopia are believed to be preventable using environmental health interventions, so targeting environmental health is vital for improving the health of the population at large.
The Hygiene and Environmental Health Module comprises 23 study sessions divided into two parts. Part 1 starts with two sessions about the basic concepts and principles of hygiene and environmental health, which serve as the introduction to the rest of the Module. The next section covers good hygiene practice at personal, household and communal levels. This is followed by food hygiene. People can become seriously ill from consuming unhygienic and unsafe food. These sessions will explain the dangers of foodborne disease and enable you to help people understand why food hygiene is important and that their health can depend on the quality of the food they eat.
Part 2 covers water and waste. The water sessions describe the importance of having water that is safe to drink, the sources and treatment of water, the protection of drinking water and how you can assess the status of water provision in your area. Finally, the waste management sessions give you an overview of the basic concepts and principles of waste management, followed by details on liquid waste and solid waste management, latrine construction and utilisation, and healthcare waste management.
Studying this Module will help you address hygiene and environmental health issues in your area in order to improve the health of people in your community. Each study session is designed in a way that you, as a health worker, can use in your own context. The Module provides first the theoretical basis, and then the practices that are applicable at village level. Each study session is completed by a set of exercises so that you can check your understanding.