Open defecation is not frowned upon, rendering the need for toilets unnecessary.
Open defecation refers to the practice where people relief themselves in fields, bushes, forests, water bodies or other open spaces.
Interestingly, some of the most common reasons for persons ‘going outside’ than using latrines or toilets include collapse of the facilities, difficulty in their use especially by the elderly and/or children, shared facilities or if they are located far away.
“Some counties have unacceptably high open defecation rates.
In Kajiado county, where open defecation rates are above 40 per cent according to county health chief officer Frida Tait, 26 villages out of 1, 172 villages have been declared open defecation free.
While awarding two villages with certificates of open defecation free in Mashuuru on Friday, said behavior change among the Maasai communities towards accepting to use toilets is highly desired.
After talking to various people in Mashuuru and other parts of the county, it emerged that most of the elderly would prefer helping themselves in the bushes rather that mixing their excreta with their daughters and sons.
Others claimed using constructed toilets are “uncomfortable” because of high temperatures in the semi-arid county, that experiences acute water shortage round the year.
During the ceremony in Mashuuru, Tait said; “We need to increase awareness on environmental health and promote hygienic practices like proper use of latrines and hand washing to reduce disease transmission.”
Tait said Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world and that the same is commonly found in cultural groups with poor hygiene.
She said Trachoma control includes surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement (SAFE).
The county health chief officer said potentially blinding and active trachoma are monitored using trachomatous trichiasis (TT) in adults and trachoma inflammation-follicular (TF) in children aged 1–9 years respectively.
Tait urged the Maasai communities in the rural Kajiado accept new conventional methods of maintaining hygiene so as to be able cut cost of treatment caused by dirt.
Failure to wash faces and bathe regularly, sharing of water basins and towels for face washing, traditional methods of trachoma treatment and dirty household environment, she said, creates a haven of avoidable infections.
Due to socio-cultural perceptions, toilets were unacceptable and use of bushes for human waste disposal was common, some years back, said Tait.
Poor perceptions on disease susceptibility, flies on children’s faces, latrine ownership and usage and separation of human and animal dwellings also played a role in the transmission of trachoma.
Fear of loss of sight during surgery was a deterrent to its uptake and a desire to be able to see and take care of domestic animals promoted surgery uptake among the Kajiado Maasai, according to local health officials.
Poor practices and related socio-cultural perceptions are important risk factors in sustaining trachoma infection and transmission.
The county health chief officer said community members require health education for behavior change and awareness creation about surgery.
She said residents in 15 counties are courting health risks by having open defecation rates above 40 per cent, according to a recent study done in the 47 counties.
Tait said said eliminating open defecation would require approximately 1.2 million latrines to be built in Kenya and properly used.
Nomadism, according to health research reports, indicates is also found to contribute to high open defecation rates with Kajiado and Narok counties at 45.5 per cent and 50.3 per cent respectively.
“The economic mainstay of pastoralists is raising livestock. They tend to move with their animals in search of water and pasture. As they move with their animals they rarely carry mobile toilets along, tending rather to defecate in the open,” Tait said.
Research reports, according to Tait, states that the poorest in Kenya are 270 times more likely to practice open defecation than the richest and estimates that about 5.6 million Kenyans defecate in the open.
Health experts warn that this practice is a fertile ground for the transmission for water-borne diseases like diarrhoea and parasitic worms.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) expresses concern that this is a global sanitation crisis practiced by one billion persons. Closer home, a 2014 report on sanitation audit shows that poor sanitation represents one of the biggest development challenges and costs Kenya Sh27 billion with many people in rural areas practicing open defecation (15 per cent) compared to urban areas (3 per cent).
Several non-governmental organisations in Kajiado led by Neighbours Initiative Alliance (NIA) have come together to support Kajiado County Government on educating the villagers on the importance of using modern toilets.
NIA’s programme manager, Samuel Jakinda, said water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is important in managing diseases in the county.
Jakinda said Kenya is classified as chronically water scarce country and that accessing WASH varies greatly with ASAL areas such as Kajiado being the most affected.