Published December 20, 2017 This content is archived.
As a participant of the Community for Global Health Equity’s (CGHE) first Global Innovation Challenge, I learned that children with disabilities around the world often do not attend school because they cannot access water and sanitation facilities. These facilities are not being monitored or assessed, leading to a large portion of the population uneducated and unable to find quality work.
To address this global problem, CGHE partnered with the WHO and UNICEF to develop a tool to monitor the availability and accessibility of inclusive WaSH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) facilities in schools.
Supported by the HealthyWorld Foundation and the Randwood Foundation, the CGHE awarded me funding to travel to Uganda to pilot test this tool in collaboration with the Appropriate Technology Centre for Water and Sanitation (ATC). Our team visited 30 schools over the course of the week. We met with principals and inspected drinking water stations, hand washing stations and toilets. Students always greeted us with smiles, big welcomes and lots of inquisitive looks.
I saw, first hand, how much water availability and accessibility varied from school to school. Water sources included wells and deep bore holes, sometimes located off school grounds. During the school day, many children would travel to fetch drinking water or use toilet facilities, often on beaten paths totally inaccessible to children with disabilities. I was also told that many schools lack the funds for drinking water or hand washing stations. Instead, they filled small tanks with water for these purposes.
Of the nearly 30 schools we visited, only three had toilets accessible to children with limited mobility and none were accessible to kids with limited vision. The three schools with accessible toilets received help from organizations to install handicap accessible toilets and sinks located next to the stalls, but the schools couldn’t afford to pay the water bills, so they were no longer in use. Many bathrooms lacked doors or lighting, threatening privacy and security, especially among children with disabilities, as well as adolescent girls.
The opportunities I’ve had with CGHE have expanded my world view and increased my awareness of global health problems I didn’t know existed. I learned critical and important lessons that have changed my life. My pharmacy career will now focus on global populations – striving to overcome enduring inequities.