The Ministry of Health (MOH) will not construct free pit latrines or toilets for members of the community who still have no such sanitary facilities despite years of awareness about the benefits.

The message was passed on by Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary while speaking to journalists on Monday as the ministry launched activities to mark the annual sanitation week.

Dr Atwine added that other than offering people latrines and urge them to clean up their homes, they are discussing with local governments to introduce fines for people who don’t comply to community sanitary standards.

Also, among the proposals they are discussing she says, is to introduce national cleaning days where everyone is expected to take part in the exercise. 

Statistics shared by the Ministry of Health show that up to 23% of the population have no toilets and still do open defecation which affects the environment.

The Commissioner Environmental Health in the ministry, Dr. Herbert Nabaasa stated that while the practice of open defecation is more pronounced in Karamoja, their data is revealing a number of other areas in Western Uganda in addition to the urban slums.

Herbert says over the years, government and donors have made efforts to clear the community of the practice that is partly responsible for a high burden of diseases such as cholera and other hygiene related diseases but this is only yielding little.

He gives an example that in some areas, people who built latrines were being gifted but along the way they realized need for a strong mindset change campaign to make people realize the importance of using the toilet and hand washing thereafter. 

He also raises a concern that even as recent outbreaks like COVID-19 and the Ebola  emphasized hand washing, the practice was only taken seriously for a short time. 

Although the Ministry is coming off tough on homes with sanitary facilities, there are reports of health facilities which still lack such. When this was put to Nabaasa, he said they are working with limited budgets and urged local governments to integrate sanitation in their plans and budgets.  

Currently, less than 10% of the government funding goes into sanitation activities. Most of the initiatives in this area are funded by donors and yet government announced recently that they are changing approach to focus attention on disease prevention and cure. 

Health experts say over 70% of the disease burden killing Ugandans can be solved by cheap sanitary or hygiene practices such as proper disposal of fecal matter and hand hygiene.