In Ethiopia, thousands of pilgrims flock to holy water sites for spiritual cleansing and physical healing. People often drink the holy water and perform ceremonial cleansing for their bodies or those of their loved ones. But there is a risk that these sites can be contaminated with bacteria that cause acute watery diarrhea (AWD) or other waterborne diseases as open defecation is a common practice in open fields close to holy water sites. To protect the pilgrims, WHO is working with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Ministry of Health, UNICEF, OCHA and other partners to ensure that water safety and latrine access is improved around holy water sites.
“Keep the environment free from defecation by using latrines all the time; always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after latrine use, before food preparation, before eating and after caring for a person with acute watery diarrhea (AWD); thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits.” Following these guidelines can help save lives in communities affected by AWD. But for these vital health messages to reach the people who need them, they must come from trusted sources. In Ethiopia, WHO works with religious and community leaders to reach more people and save lives.
Churches that provide holy water are now building structures to protect holy water sources along with latrines within their compounds that pilgrims can use. Speaking to a crowd of about 800 people at St Ghiorgis Church in Amhara Region, north-east Ethiopia, Bishop Abune Abraham encouraged them to follow hygienic practices and to use the latrines provided by the church. He reminded them that personal hygiene and respectful use of holy sites is also a faith-related duty.
The Bishop and his leadership team met with heads of the regional health and water bureaus of the Amhara Region, WHO, UNICEF and OCHA to develop a plan to improve water safety and sanitation within church compounds and reach communities through the church, and to solicit the government and partners’ support in ensuring the provision of safe water to holy sites and surrounding areas.
To control water borne diseases in Ethiopia, WHO is coordinating the health cluster for preparedness and response; supporting the government in risk assessment; strengthening surveillance, including active case search and contact tracing; supporting case management and quality of care at treatment centers; and increasing risk communication and advocacy.