Open Defecation in Cameroon Increases Risk of Choler

Local governments throughout Cameroon admit that there are not enough toilet facilities for the country’s population. As a result, open defecation is common. But health officials say this increases the risk of outbreaks of cholera and other sanitation-related diseases.

Open Defecation in Cameroon

BAMENDA, CAMEROON – At a large compound in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region, a series of apartments houses more than 15 residents. Those residents share just one pit toilet.

Yvette points to the apartment that was hers in the compound until some months ago, when she moved out.

“All of us in the compound shared two bathrooms and one pit toilet that was almost full,” she says. “I got sick of the situation and had to move to a new compound where, though I still share the toilets with my neighbors, am a little satisfied that at least we have more than one toilet and it is modern.”

Besides the pressure of waiting in a queue to use the toilet in her old neighborhood, Yvette says that on rainy nights, it was very difficult to go to the toilet at all because it lacked a proper roof. So, many tenants would poop in plastic bags or pails and dispose of it in the morning, she says.

Yvette and her former neighbors are not alone in this sanitation dilemma. Open defecation is a common practice in Cameroon. Still, it is considered a shameful topic for young women to discuss, so Yvette requested her last name be withheld. Moreover, public defecation creates numerous health risks.

Thousands of residents of Bamenda and other cities in Cameroon don’t have access to toilets because of a lack of public and private facilities. The government has built some facilities, but it admits it’s not enough. A sanitation team strives to discourage residents from open defecation, the elimination of which is crucial in preventing outbreaks of cholera and other sanitation-related diseases. Meanwhile, nongovernmental organizations have initiated campaigns to improve sanitation facilities and practices.

Sanitation is a human right and key in disease prevention, according to the World Health Organization. WHO predicts that 2.7 billion people – about 40 percent of the world’s population – will be without access to basic sanitation by 2015 if current trends continue. Cholera outbreaks are a result of inadequate water supplies, sanitation, food safety and hygiene practices.

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