Khamkeuth District, June 4, 2014

Ban Nongxong in Khamkeuth District has been recognised as the first village in Bolikhamxay Province to simultaneously achieve both Model Health Village and Open Defecation Free status.

District health officials, along with partners and representatives of the Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC), joined villagers to commemorate the achievement by unveiling a new village sign on June 4.

The award follows a two-year pilot program instituted in the village by THPC. Ban Nonxong is home to around 650 people who moved to the village from other areas in 2009, during expansion of the Theun-Hinboun hydropower project. Among other benefits the new village offered good quality housing, clean water supply, toilets and a clinic.

However, THPC staff noticed that expected improvements in public health were slow to arrive and so in 2013 they approached the Ministry of Health’s National Centre of Environmental Health and Water Supply, Nam Saat, and the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), to help launch a Community-Led Total Sanitation project in Nongxong.

The project has worked with focus groups in the village, including the primary and secondary schools and the Women’s Union, to help people better understand the links between daily behaviour and health levels, and to get better results from the infrastructure in the village. As a result, the number of people using toilets regularly has increased, and people are more aware of how to ensure that water from boreholes or gravity-fed systems is stored or handled correctly so that it remains clean.

An assessment by Khamkeuth District Health Department recently found that more than three-quarters of Nongxong residents had ceased using the bushes around the village as a toilet, thereby conferring “Open Defecation Free” status on the village. At the same time the village also passed 14 established criteria to qualify as the first Model Health Village in Bolikhamxay.

According to Ms Thepphasone Chanthavong, WASH and Nutrition Senior Officer for THPC, the awards made to Ban Nongxong are significant on a national scale and also for the other villages in the Theun-Hinboun project area. “The villagers have worked hard at this under expert guidance from Nam Saat and PADETC,” said Ms Thepphasone. “With the help of the District Health team, THPC is introducing this program to other villages in the area and we hope to achieve similar results in all resettled villages”.

In late May this year the United Nations announced a new campaign to end open defecation, which it says costs about US$260 billion worldwide. According to the UN one billion people in the world still practice open defecation, causing huge economic loss due to illness, death and reduced productivity.

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