Community Health Workers drive sanitation changes amongst the Maasai

This post was written by Chris McKeon, Writer and Production Assistant at Arete Stories.

The Maasai of Laikipia region in northern Kenya face a number of health issues. With a history of nomadism they had never felt the need for toilets as the bush always sufficed. However, with the decline in size of the territory along with the erection of more permanent structures, safe disposal of fecal matter has arisen as a major concern.

Preventable diseases such as diarrhoea are widespread, and pose a significant threat to the health of the Maasai – especially that of infants and children under the age of five.

The problem stems from a lack of basic hygiene. “The Maasai aren’t used to using pit latrines,” says Daniel Kipishe, a Community Health Worker in the Morupusi area. “They just go in the bush.”

A traditional Maasai home in Morupusi Group Ranch of Laikipia County, Kenya. Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

A traditional Maasai home in Morupusi Group Ranch of Laikipia County, Kenya.
Image: Matthew Willman / AOA

Each year, around the world, more than 1.5 million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases, according to WHO. Millions more suffer from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and intestinal worms.

For the Maasai, the lack of adequate sanitation may be hindering progress in other areas of community development, including maternal and child health.

Simple health advice is the solution to stopping the spread of disease. Anglican Overseas Aid (AOA), along with the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church of Kenya, has trained 25 Community Health Workers in Morupusi to help overcome this problem. Their role is to provide basic health advice in the villages and report on the area’s health needs to the Kenyan Government. Although the health workers were selected from the population, initially the Maasai were wary of engaging with them.

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