What are the forgotten foundations of health? What, even, is a foundation of health? In my global health classes, we have discussed the concept of HSW—hygiene, sanitation, and water. In my previous travels, I have definitely noticed the issue of HSW and Ghana is no exception.
Trash, or rubbish as the Ghanaians call it, is littered along the streets or piled up in small areas near homes. I have seen one trash bin since arriving, and there is still nowhere to dispose of that garbage properly. Small mounds can be found in communities that mimic a landfill but are in inhabited areas. This has made me realize that the landfills we know in the states are isolated and monitored thoroughly, and for a reason nonetheless. When we visited one village, I learned that in the whole village there was not a single latrine and people had to openly defecate in fields. In Hohoe, there are trenches on either side of the road serving as gutters. These trenches have a questionable stagnant green liquid that sits in them and smells slightly off. Even the Ghanaians drink treated water from bottles or small water pouches. Needless to say, hygiene, sanitation, and water is a large source of health issues here in Ghana and in much of the developing world.
But, is there an even more forgotten foundation of health that is a foundation to hygiene, sanitation, and water? Forgotten foundation inception. I believe the answer to this question is yes, and more specifically, this foundation is education. This morning when I went over the surveys I used for my research, I realized that most people I spoke to either went to a few years of primary school or had no education whatsoever. One of CareNet’s missions is for universal primary education in Ghana. But is that enough? Do children learn principles of health in school? If villages were taught not to defecate in fields because bacteria could reach their crops creating a vicious cycle, would they put the money and energy into building latrines? How about making Ghana more sanitary? If the government were to be educated on the merits of isolated landfills, would they change infrastructure to create a sanitation system?
Regardless, the most forgotten foundation of health is education. With education comes knowledge about these little issues than can go a long way in decreasing diarrheal diseases, water borne diseases, and ultimately reduce morbidity and mortality. Every child has the right to education; with that right follows the right to health. By aiming for and achieving universal education, does that lead to more health education? Perhaps this is something the United States has gotten right. Overall, we have a pretty good health system not barred by most of the issues plaguing low-income countries. Perhaps, requiring schooling until the age of 16 has led to an increased understanding of health principles so that HSW is not even an issue in the states. I understand that universal education is by no means an easy feat, especially in such impoverished areas of the world. But these questions could one day lead to answers and forgotten foundations of health will no longer be forgotten; and even more hopeful, maybe one day these forgotten foundations of health will no longer be foundations of health.