MWAPE MWENYA, Lusaka
PUBLIC toilets or convenience rooms have become famous money-making ventures which are booming in Zambia and have created employment for both men and women.
But in as much as this has created employment and empowered some people; poor sanitation has characterised most public toilets and are posing a serious health hazard for users, especially women (expectant mothers) and girls.
It is important to note that access to basic sanitation and good hygiene is a human right and everyone deserves the right to the benefits and dignity of a safe toilet, especially women and girls who are often vulnerable to the effects of poor sanitation.
Some of the women interviewed in Lusaka on the use of public toilets complained of poor management of these toilets.
â€œMost of these toilets do not have running water and we are made to pour water from the drums using containers, sometimes if water in the drums runs out we just leave them dirt which is not good for workers or other users coming after us,â€ a trader at Lusakaâ€™s Kulima Tower bus station said.
And one of the toilet attendants at Lusakaâ€™s City Market who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation from her employer said that working in the toilets has not been easy.
â€œSometimes when there is no water, people just use the toilets and leave without cleaning, and in most instances women carelessly pour water on the floor. We are also human beings, we do not enjoy having to clean after other people especially when they defecate or mess up when they are menstruating,â€ she said.
Meanwhile, the fee-paying toilets are posing an economic challenge for marketeers who are expected to pay for their use from the meagre profits they make from selling merchandise.
Enayah Kambobe from City Market said K1 for every time you want to use the toilet is too much for most marketeers who start their day as early as 05:00 hours in the morning.
â€œSome of us come here as early as 05:00 hours to make orders for our goods, so we start using the toilet in the morning until we knock off around 22:30 hours. It is so expensive especially considering that we do not make much profit from our sells,â€ Ms Kambobe said.
The women have since appealed to the local authorities who are custodians of most public toilets to consider reducing the fees, especially for marketeers who are normally found at the markets for long hours.
One other important aspect which the local authority and the business community have overlooked is building structures suitable for disabled persons.
Most structures do not have ramps to allow easy access for disabled persons, as a result, their privacy is compromised because they have to be escorted into the toilets to help them use these facilities.
But Lusaka City Council acting public relations manager, Habeenzu Mulunda, said the local authority is still constructing toilets in public places which will put into consideration people living with disabilities.
â€œYes it is true that there are no ramps in these facilities, but we will consider that as we build new structures,â€ Mr Mulunda said.
He said it would be impossible for the local authority to reduce toilet fees for marketeers who are complaining of hiked fees as the fee has already been approved by theÂ Ministry of Local Government and Housing.
â€œOn the issue of water, it is beyond our mandate because it is the water utility company [Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company] which has to look into that. We have already written to them to ensure that the pressure of water is improved, especially at Kulima Tower bus station where people have resorted to using water that we store in drums,â€ he said.
He said the local authority is doing everything possible to improve the sanitary conditions for public toilets.
â€œThe onus is also on users, they should be responsible and stop vandalising these facilities. They should avoid stealing equipment; people walk away with toilet tissues, and other items after using the facilities, making it difficult for the local authority to function properly,â€ Mr Habeenzu said.
And on the health risks, sexual and health reproductive specialist at University Teaching Hospital Swebby Macha said unhygienic toilets are health hazards.
Dr Macha said if the situation is left unattended to; it can poseÂ a health threat especially to expectant mothers and girls who normally sit on toilet pans when using them.
Some of the health implications which may arise from the use of unhygienic public toilets include urinary tract infections (UTIs) especially for pregnant women, diarrhoea and dysentery.
In the case of UTIs in pregnant women, Dr Macha said, this can result into miscarriages and other health implications.
He has since advised the business community and the local authorities manning these public toilets to be health conscience and ensure that the toilets are kept clean at all times.
And the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to Ensure Environmental Sustainability target number 7C; requires that by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation is halved.
According to the MDG`s 2015 and beyond, over a quarter of the worldâ€™s population has gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, yet one billion people still resort to open defecation.
The vast majority 82 per cent of people practicing open defecation now live in middle-income, populous countries. Despite progress, 2.5 billion in developing countries still lack access to improved sanitation facilities.
MWAPE MWENYA, Lusaka