“When people lack access to safe water, they are most vulnerable to diseases like diarrhea, scabies and even lice,” says Lana Agha, Anera Health Officer in Gaza.
Untreated infections, she explains, may also lead to death, especially in the poorest and most marginalized Palestinian communities and among those with weaker immune systems like newborns and children under the age of five.
With funds from Islamic Relief USA and community of committed donors, Anera has been able to connect residents of the Zarqa area in Gaza City to a reliable source of clean water. But access is not enough. Anera also has implemented valuable health awareness sessions to provide lessons on personal hygiene and other health tips. Lana says, “Simple health practices can save families a lot of misery.”
Based on questionnaires circulated before the start of the health sessions, Lana was able to focus her discussions to address the most acute health needs. One topic was water storage: “Some families eat unwashed vegetables and never cleaned their water storage tanks.” Another practice that caught her attention was hand-washing. Most of the women washed their hands often, but didn’t think about washing their hands before changing diapers or eating their meals. “And, many impoverished families can’t afford basic items like soap and detergent, ” Lana adds.
Awareness Classes Lead to Treatment for 3-Year-Old Rahaf
Once the women in the health sessions relaxed a bit, they started sharing their health concerns, including the spread of parasites and lice. “When I talked about how parasites are transmitted from one body to another and how they can live in mud contaminated by animal feces, mothers in the class were anxious to learn what they could do to protect their children,” said Lana.
Sumaya Moqat says she was grateful for the classes. “When I learned that some parasite infections could affect my children’s learning abilities, I really got worried,” she said. “I was anxious because all the symptoms we discussed, like diarrhea and lack of appetite, were applicable to my 3-year-old child, Rahaf,” she said.
Soon after the class, Sumaya rushed her three-year-old to a nearby clinic for parasite testing and treatment. Sure enough, Rahaf had a parasitic infection. After comprehensive treatment, she’s making a full recovery. To prevent further infection, Sumaya follows the instruction and advice she learned in the health session.
The impact of the Gaza water project, from water connections and classes to the distribution of hygiene kits, is evident almost immediately. “When safe water is available, we give our children frequent baths, we wash our hands more often and the vegetables too,” explains Sumaya.
Anera’s health officer says the goal of the awareness program is to prevent children from falling ill in the first place. “Prevention is better than treatment.”