subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

The state of sanitation within SA’s educational institutions is critical in shaping the development arc of the nation’s children. Poor sanitary conditions pose a multifaceted threat to pupils, not just to their physical health but also to their education and psychological wellbeing. 

However, the creation of sanitary infrastructure alone does not suffice; the crux lies equally in its maintenance. Enduring sanitation solutions require a collaborative effort that transcends sectoral boundaries, ensuring that investments in sanitation are both sustainable and effective in fostering a supportive environment for the youth. 

Imagine a child, bright-eyed and brimming with potential, stepping into the confines of a school only to be met with the stark reality of inadequate sanitation facilities. This is a plight faced by too many SA children where the school, a place of learning and growth, also becomes a ground for a different, more harrowing lessons — illness, lack of privacy, and often the silent endurance of discomfort. 

Recent reports suggest that 3,398 of the country’s schools still use pit latrines, affecting 34,489 teachers and 1,042,698 pupils. Yet this challenge isn’t confined to SA; globally, it is estimated that 28% of schools still lack basic sanitation services, affecting 539-million pupils.

The ramifications of inadequate sanitation extend beyond the immediate susceptibility to communicable diseases; they perpetuate a cycle of absenteeism and academic underperformance. The impact also transcends the physical, burrowing deep into the psyche of our young ones. The constant anxiety associated with unsafe and undignified sanitation conditions engenders a state of psychosocial stress that is not conducive to learning. It undermines pupils’ intrinsic motivation, erodes their self-esteem, and can potentially precipitate long-term mental health issues. The stigmatisation associated with sanitation-related diseases further isolates affected children, impeding their social development and integration. 

The School Toilet Report by Domestos reveals that 12% of children surveyed in India, Poland, SA and the UK found it hard to concentrate in class due to “holding it in” so as to avoid using unsanitary and poorly maintained school toilets; and 7% of children missed school to avoid using the toilets. 

Overcoming this challenge requires necessitates maintenance being accorded the same importance and dedication as the initial establishment of sanitation. The efficacy of sanitation facilities is intrinsically tied to their upkeep; without it, the benefits of the infrastructure are temporary. That requires the integration of maintenance protocols into the fabric of educational and public health policy, underscored by adequate funding, requisite personnel and responsive feedback to address issues as they arise. It also requires collaboration across various sectors.

For example, since 2010 Domestos has championed the cause of enhanced sanitation and hygiene in SA schools. By working with the department of basic education, the brand has led a campaign to elevate hygiene standards.

Domestos’s infrastructure programme promotes the refurbishment of school sanitation facilities, while its national schools hygiene programme instils essential hygiene practices in grade 1 pupils across state schools. The Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme complements those programmes, empowering school staff with the skills needed for sanitation management.

In 2023 alone the initiatives have reached more than 1-million pupils in more than 17,000 schools and trained teachers and cleaners in 201 schools, But  more needs to be done. Achieving universal coverage in schools globally by 2030 is estimated to require a three-fold increase in the rate of progress on basic sanitation, and a five-fold increase in basic hygiene services. 

This year’s World Toilet Day, commemorated under the theme Accelerating Change, serves as a stark reminder that the task at hand is to continue to build, maintain and improve on the sanitary solutions that safeguard the wellbeing of all SA children of school-going age.

Through consistent and collaborative efforts we can aspire to a standard of sanitation that reflects our commitment to the health, education and dignity of every SA pupil. 

Palmer is Unilever Southern Africa homecare director. 

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.