Fighting COVID-19: Need for tippy taps in communities without water
Madam Wasila Yakubu, a yam seller, lives with her husband and five children at Gbungbaliga, a town in the Yendi Municipality of the Northern Region.
Gbungbaliga boasts of one manual and another mechanised borehole, which do not meet the water needs of residents. Open defecation was common in the area. Poor water supply coupled with open defecation led to water-borne diseases in the area.
Madam Yakubu, therefore, took a decision to especially improve the health of her children. She embraced the community-led total sanitation concept, and in 2017, constructed a household latrine fitted with a tippy tap to ensure that she and her children wash their hands with soap under running water anytime they visited the toilet.
Madam Yakubu said it took her less than GH¢5.00 to fix the tippy tap, adding that since constructing the household latrine fitted with the tippy tap, her children had not visited the hospital for cholera and diarrhea treatment.
She said an announcement was made at a mosque in the area in early March, this year, which said that a new respiratory disease called COVID-19 had emerged and had been killing people all over the world. She said it was emphasised at the mosque that one of the surest ways to prevent the disease was to wash hands frequently with soap under running water.
She indicated that since then, the routine in her house had changed: “We do not only use the tippy tap only when we visit the toilet but whenever we want to do something or finish any activity.”
She is happy that the tippy tap does not only protect her family against water-borne diseases but is also now protecting them against the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Madam Yakubu, her investment in the tippy tap was akin to “Using one stone to kill two birds.” Madam Yakubu’s story represents the experience of the over 500 households at Gbungbaliga.
In view of the improved sanitation and hygiene practices, Gbungbaliga has attained open defecation free status.
Tippy tap and its usefulness
A tippy tap is a hands-free device for handwashing that is specially designed for rural communities where there is no running water. It is operated by a foot lever and thus reduces the chance for the transmission of pathogens as the user only touches a bar of soap suspended by a string.
It is fixed by erecting two poles with a crossbar. Usually, a six and a half litre gallon filled with water is then hanged across the crossbar and suspended by a string attached to a plank of wood.
A small hole is then created on the shoulder of the gallon such that when the wood on which the string is attached, is pressed down, water in the gallon is dispensed for the individual to wash hands with soap. It costs less than GHC5.00 (less than a dollar) to fix a tippy tap and this makes it affordable to many households especially those in rural communities.
It is also ideal in water conservation as it does not dispense water in torrents. This is why it is even more appropriate for populations that lack access to a reliable supply of water.
The water situation in Ghana and basic hygiene practices
According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2017/2018), 79 per cent of Ghanaians have access to basic drinking water. This implies that over six million Ghanaians lack access to basic drinking water. However, there are also disparities in access to basic drinking water between urban and rural populations in the country.
The percentage of urban dwellers with access to basic drinking water stands at 93 per cent, whilst that of rural dwellers stands at 68 per cent.
The disparities in access to basic drinking water also exist at the regional level. For instance, whilst access to basic drinking water in the Greater Accra Region stands at 98 per cent, the situation in the Northern Region is far lower as only 50 per cent of the people in the Region have access to basic drinking water.
The Upper East, Upper West, Western and Eastern Regions are also below the national average in terms of access to basic drinking water. In the area of hygiene, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2017/2018) shows that only 48 per cent of Ghanaians have access to basic hygiene; thus have handwashing facilities on their premises with soap and water to wash their hands.
However, there are also disparities in access to basic hygiene between urban and rural populations in the country. The percentage of urban dwellers with access to basic hygiene stands at 56 per cent, whilst that of rural dwellers stands at 42 per cent.
The COVID-19 pandemic
Coronavirus emerged late last year in the central city of Wuhan in China. It spread quickly and killed a number of people in the city. The World Health Organisation (WHO) christened it COVID-19 on February 11, and declared it a pandemic on March 11, because it was spreading fast to other parts of the world. By April 26, the total confirmed cases globally stood at over 2,900,000 with more than 200,000 deaths.
Ghana recorded her first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 12, and by April 26, the number of confirmed cases rose to 1,550 with 155 recoveries and 11 deaths.
According to the WHO, the COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact. Droplet transmission occurs when a person is in close contact (within one metre) with someone, who has respiratory symptoms (coughing or sneezing) and is therefore at risk of having his/her (mouth, nose, or eyes) exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets.
Transmission may also occur through fomites in the immediate environment around the infected person.
Therefore, the transmission of the COVID-19 virus can occur by direct contact with infected people and indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate environment or with objects used on the infected person.
Some of the precautionary measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 include handwashing with soap under running water, using alcohol-based hand sanitisers, covering one’s mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing, and social distancing. However, regular handwashing with soap under running water is highly recommended as one of the surest ways to halt the spread of the disease.
The way forward
Access to water is crucial to ensure regular handwashing with soap under running water. However, as shown above, the majority of Ghana’s rural population lacks access to water and therefore, cannot wash their hands with soap under running water. Therefore, there is a need for appropriate technologies or devices to enable them to practice improved hygiene are urgent to strengthen the country’s fight against the COVID-19.
It is against this backdrop that Ghana’s rural dwellers, who lack access to water, are encouraged to adopt tippy taps to improve their hygiene practices. Like the people of Gbungbaliga, this will keep the rural dwellers safe during this critical period of COVID-19, when hygiene practices are highly recommended.
District assemblies are also encouraged to contract water tanker service providers to regularly supply water to communities within their jurisdictions that lack water to promote hygiene practices.
The long term solution is to increase investment in the provision of water to all communities across the country.