Fresh water – without the crocodiles
Sinazongwe Trachoma Project
Trachoma is an especially painful affliction which eventually leads to complete and incurable blindness. In Zambia, it is of particular concern in the southern Sinazongwe District, where 14 percent of the population suffers the disease.
Earlier this decade Dr. Wiafe, now Operation Eyesight's Regional Director for Africa, was a key player in carrying out a trachoma control project in Gwembe Valley adjacent to Sinazongwe. A collaborating team of Kenyan ministry partners, NGOs and Operation Eyesight, implemented the World Health Organization's SAFE strategy (surgery, distribution of antibiotics, community hygiene education and the drilling of water wells) in the Gwembe Valley. The program succeeded in reducing the overall trachoma prevalence in the district from 47 percent to 7.6 percent.
Now Operation Eyesight's attention is on the Sinazongwe District, where a survey shows 80 percent of households have no access to latrines, and the lack of clean water is contributing to the spread of trachoma.
The Sinazongwe Trachoma Project employs the full SAFE strategy with particular attention to the E-component (environmental infrastructure) in the initial stage. The drilling and equipping of 100 water wells throughout the district provides clean water for many uses including face washing, a critical part of trachoma prevention.
Operation Eyesight's project partners include Australia's Pixifoto Foundation which is funding the entire cost of the well-drilling. Zambia's Department of Water Affairs is providing drilling, equipping and monitoring expertise.
Well drilling's benefits include much more than blindness prevention. Villagers enjoy the luxury of clean, fresh water upon demand; garden plots flourish around the wellsites, thereby improving diets; women no longer walk several kilometres a day to fetch their families a few litres of questionable water; and the enrolment in local schools has increased, helping educate the region's inhabitants about the importance of hygiene.
And perhaps most importantly, the women who once fetched water at the shores of Lake Kariba no longer have to contend with crocodiles lurking amongst the reeds.
Water wells in Sinazongwe District are relatively shallow, up to 90 meters deep, so the cost per well is reasonable and allows Operation Eyesight to make the most of donor dollars. Villagers are expected to maintain the wells once operational, and since they are operated by hand pumps they do not place undue stress upon village resources.
Donors are making progress in Sinazongwe's trachoma elimination battle and Operation Eyesight is developing plans for implementation of the complete SAFE strategy in the next three years.