The smell of rain is in the air, and this time of year brings nourishment to the soil, lots of fruit treats but unfortunately also some hazards. Fast growing urban populations in most of Africa have vastly overpowered most municipalities’ ability to provide adequate safe, clean and treated water.
But of course not to be held down we the people have responded by providing our own water. Borehole companies will drill a borehole anywhere, even if that’s just across the street from my neighbour’s septic tank. Shallow wells and pit latrines lie nearly side by side in most shanties across Africa. So our ground water is contaminated by septic tanks and pit latrines as the water table rises during the rainy season. Thus the blessing of rain in most parts of Africa is often accompanied by the curse of diarrhoeal disease. A curse which by all means is avoidable.
Diarrhoea is usually a symptom of intestinal tract infection. This infection can be spread though consuming food, or drinking water contaminated with faecal matter or from person to person as a result of poor personnel hygiene. Vibrio Cholerae, Escheriachia coli and Rotavirus are some common organisms causing diarrhea in low income countries.
So what can you do? Firstly make sure the water you drink is safe, if you have a borehole get a water sample analyzed and install the necessary treating equipment, if you are going to the country side for some weekend farming, boil or chlorinate your drinking water. Practice good personnel hygiene, wash your hands with soap after using the lavatory and carry hand sanitizer as hand shaking is very much a part of our African culture. Avoid buying food of the street as most of the vendors unfortunately do not have adequate water convenience’s.
Should the big D find you this rainy season, stay hydrated with Oral Rehydration Salt solutions and be sure to take zinc supplements as these reduce the duration of diarrhoea, but should this fail or should blood turn up in your stool quickly see your closest health care provider and please understand if they don’t shake your hand.
By Shula Chanda MD