With the continuing efforts between UNICEF and the Department of Education (DepEd), the problems on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in schools are being solved one washroom at a time.
In the kickoff of DepEd’s annual Brigada Eskwela at Justo Lukban High School held Monday, May 21, UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Tomoo Huzumi joined DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro in inspecting the condition of toilets and washrooms. According to Huzumi, clean washrooms are part of a child’s right to education.
“As you know, every child has the right to a good education and in line with that the right to safe water, clean toilets, hand washing facilities, soap, tooth brushes and toothpaste in school,” Huzumi said in a speech. Furthermore, the representative linked poor sanitation in a student’s absences.
“In the Philippines, 2 out of every 3 elementary children suffer from intestinal worms; 9 out of 10 children have dental caries, and one of the most common complaints from students: stomach pains caused by diarrhea. These illnesses cause children to perform poorly in school or miss days of school,” he added.
In the data gathered by UNICEF, the Philippines still has a long way to go in addressing sanitation at schools. Aside from the 1:55 toilet to student ratio in the elementary level and almost a hundred in high school, half of schools with water supply rely on natural sources such as artesian wells and springs, which pose a high risk of water contamination. Moreover, clean lavatories are linked to increase in attendances and school performance. Poor security measures, lack of sanitation supplies, and others also need to be resolved.
“The challenge of improving poor sanitation in schools is even greater. On average, more than 50 students share one toilet in elementary and almost 100 students share a toilet in secondary schools. In poor and disadvantages regions such as ARMM, more than 300 students share a toilet. These figures are much higher than the international UNICEF and WHO standard that recommends a maximum of 25 students share one toilet,” Hizumi said.
However, according to same data, DepEd already accomplished a significant step in ensuring that students will enjoy clean facilities. From almost 136,000 shortages in toilet seats, it was reduced to 117,480 seats, reducing the student-to-toilet-seat ratio. Aside from addressing the issue of toilet bowls, schools with no water supply were also reduced to 13 percent from 20 percent.
To deal with the problems of sanitation and hygiene in schools, UNICEF, together with the Department of Health, Fit for School, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German International Agency for Cooperation), LGUs, and corporate partners tie up to implement EHCP, or Essential Health Care Program. EHPC aims to promote proper hygiene and health care practices through regular school activities.
“EHCP is a simple and scalable WASH in schools program involving daily group handwashing and toothbrushing, and semi-annual deworming of children in schools. It has been found to significantly increase attendance by up to 27%, while reducing worm infestation, dental caries, and malnutrition among school children,” he said.
“The Essential Healthcare Program that provides hand washing with soap, toothbrush with toothpaste and de-worming, has reached some 2 million students in 7,200 schools so far. The next step is to expand the program nationwide and to include the fourth essential element–the provision of clean toilets,” the UNICEF representative said.
EHCP, being the first part in improving WASH at school, is designed to promote safer water supplies, proper sanitary drills, and clean lavatories in drastically reducing intestinal worm infestation, and incidences of diarrhea linked to absenteeism and poor school performance. The Department of Education promised to further improve the said areas of concern as part of their yearly Brigada Eskwela.