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Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan: Nadia becomes first open defecation free district in West Bengal

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

“An achievement, which every Indian should be proud of. An achievement, which every person from Nadia wore on his sleeve today, as they strutted out to be part of massive celebrations in the district. An achievement, that has changed the future of Nadia’s children forever,” reads a post on UNICEF India’s website honoring a community-led transformation in a small district of West Bengal.

Setting a benchmark for the rest of the country, Nadia has been declared as the first open defecation free (ODF) district in West Bengal under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.

It was noted in the district census report of 2011-12 that out of the total population of 5.16 million, around 30 per cent of the households in Nadia had no access to toilets and the residents defecated in the open.

Such unhygienic conditions caused health issues among the residents of Nadia. In 2012-2013, more than 10,000 diarrheal cases and 28 deaths were caused due to diarrhea. Apart from facing severe health issues, women also had to deal with sexual violence, shame and guilt as they had the sole option to defecate in the open.

The district, under the administration of P.B Salim and with the technical support of UNICEF, decided to cede more importance to sanitation and aimed for an Open Defecation Free Nadia.

Soon 3, 55,609 toilets were built at an astonishing rate. The front line workers and the Anganwadi employees worked together to highlight the hazards of open defecation, and inspired the masses to seek for a better living. Not only the adults, but even young children did their bit to make their district hygienic.

In the record time of 18 months, the toilet coverage in the district increased from 66 per cent in July 2013 to 100 per cent by March 2015. About 5.16 million citizens of the district attained access to sanitary toilets.

“Bengal is proud of its achievement. To make whole of West Bengal Nirmal is our promise and we’re working hard to achieve this,” said the proud Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during an event.

David McLoughlin, the Deputy Representative of UNICEF India said, “UNICEF is proud to be a partner with Mission Nirmal Bangla and we are sure that its success is inspiring other districts in West Bengal as well as other states of India to take strong action to stop open defecation.”

Indeed, it’s a moment to rejoice and a time to celebrate the power of unity.

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Women Hit Especially Hard In Congo’s Worst Ebola Outbreak

For the afflicted, the road to recovery is long and lonely.

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Ebola, WHO, UNICEF, congo, Uganda, women
Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

The Democratic Republic of Congo is in the throes of its worst-ever Ebola outbreak, with more than 420 cases in the country’s volatile east, and a mortality rate of just under 60 percent. But this outbreak — the nation’s tenth known Ebola epidemic — is unusual because more than 60 percent of patients are women.

Among them is Baby Benedicte. Her short life has already been unimaginably difficult.

At one month old, she is underweight, at 2.9 kilograms. And she is alone. Her mother had Ebola, and died giving birth to her. She’s spent the last three weeks of her life in a plastic isolation cube, cut off from most human contact. She developed a fever at eight days old and was transferred to this hospital in Beni, a town of some half-million people in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More than 400 people have been diagnosed with Ebola here since the beginning of August, and more than half of them have died in a nation the size of Western Europe that struggles with insecurity and a lack of the most basic infrastructure and services. That makes this the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history, after the hemorrhagic fever killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.

This is 10th outbreak to strike the vast country since 1976, when Ebola was first identified in Congo. And this particular outbreak is further complicated by a simmering civil conflict that has plagued this region for more than two decades.

Guido Cornale, UNICEF’s coordinator in the region, says the scope of this outbreak is clear.

“It has become the worst outbreak in Congo, this is not a mystery,” he said.

What is mysterious, however, is the demographics of this outbreak. This time, more than 60 percent of cases are women, says the government’s regional health coordinator, Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe.

“All the analyses show that this epidemic is feminized. Figures like this are alarming. It’s true that the female cases are more numerous than the male cases,” he said.

Congo, Uganda, ebola, Women
Health workers walk with a boy suspected of having been infected with the Ebola virus, at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, near Congo’s border with Uganda. VOA

Bathe declined to predict when the outbreak might end, though international officials have said it may last another six months. Epidemiologists are still studying why this epidemic is so skewed toward women and children, Cornale said.

“So now we can only guess. And one of the guesses is that woman are the caretakers of sick people at home. So if a family member got sick, who is taking care of him or her? Normally, a woman,” he said.

Or a nurse. Many of those affected are health workers, who are on the front line of battling this epidemic. Nurse Guilaine Mulindwa Masika, spent 16 days in care after a patient transmitted the virus to her. She says it was the fight of her life.

“The pain was enormous, the pain was constant,” she said. “The headache, the diarrhea, the vomiting, and the weakness — it was very, very bad.”

Congo, Ebola, Women
Marie-Roseline Darnycka Belizaire, World Health Organization (WHO) Epidemiology Team Lead, talks to women as part of Ebola contact tracing, in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

For the afflicted, the road to recovery is long and lonely. Masika and her cured colleagues face weeks of leave from work to ensure the risk of infection is gone. In the main hospital in the city of Beni, families who have recovered live together in a large white tent, kept four meters from human contact by a bright orange plastic cordon. They yell hello at their caretakers, who must don protective gear if they want to get any closer.

And for Baby Benedicte, who is tended to constantly by a nurse covered head to toe in protective gear, the future is uncertain. Medical workers aren’t entirely sure where her father is, or if he is going to come for her.

Also Read: Congo Start Trials For Drugs Against Ebola

She sleeps most of the day, the nurse says, untroubled by the goings-on around her. Meanwhile, the death toll rises. (VOA)