Ebola in West Africa: Did open defecation spread Ebola?

November 19 is the World Toilet Day

Fearing that open defecation could be the main cause for the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, which has wrecked a havoc in West Africa, the UN has decided to take call on ending open defecation. (Read: World Toilet Day 2014: Why putting an end to defecation in public is a global priority)

A newly published report on World Toilet day, says that nearly half the population in Nigeria have no access to toilets, while in Sierra Leone nearly a third of people live without latrines. Being declared Ebola- free, Nigeria warned last month to curb open defecation as the virus spreads through contact with bodily fluids. (Read: Ebola in Sierra Leone: 7th doctor dies of Ebola)

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The health risks of open defecation are not limited to Ebola, with major diseases in developing countries spread because of lack of proper sanitation. The report also says that nearly a billion people worldwide have no access to toilets and are forced to defecate in the open. Diarrhea being the third largest killer taking lives of children under five years. (Read: How the Ebola virus spreads in humans)

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that women suffer the most from lack of sanitary facilities as most number of girls are denied school due to lack of clean and functional toilets. Girls and women are also susceptible to sexual harassment and abuse when trying to find somewhere to defecate in the open. (Read: 5 reasons the ebola virus should never come to India)

Lack of money thwarted the progress of ending open defecation, with around 80% open defecation being limited to 10 countries.India contributing to around half the total number defecating in the open followed in Asia by Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal and China. In Africa, 39 million people do not have toilets in Nigeria, with high rates also in Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger and Mozambique.

Eliasson also said that success at ending open defecation goes beyond infrastructure. It requires the understanding of behaviours, cultural attitudes and social norms.

Image source: Getty Images

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