The University of Liberia is the main state university that has been operating since 1862. Recently, it has repeatedly failed to achieve a ranking in major world university rankings. In fact, on some, it does not even appear in the top 100 universities in Africa. Times Higher Education Ranking (THE), the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) or the QS World University Rankings (QS).
Various factors explain this – the quality of the programmes, the qualifications of the professors, the number and quality of the research and scientific innovations produced, the infrastructures, etc. Of these, the one most relevant to this article is infrastructure development (or lack thereof). Especially in educational institutions, by infrastructure we mean more than just buildings. We consider how modern these buildings are and how many different types of facilities – libraries, classrooms, bathrooms, toilets, gymnasiums, etc. – they contain.
Situate the University of Liberia campuses in this context.
The University of Liberia has two campuses, the main one, Capitol Bye Pass, and the larger and newer one, at Fendall. Chances are, if one has been on one of the campuses, you must have used the bathroom. This, unfortunately, is nothing out of the ordinary.
Sanitary conditions on the University of Liberia campuses are poor at best. Having walked through the walls of the University from undergraduate to graduate level and having a clear understanding of what sanitation means, it is important to note that the situation has only gotten worse on both campuses.
Sanitation is generally defined as the promotion of hygiene and the prevention of disease through the maintenance of good sanitary conditions, i.e. well-constructed toilets, good sanitary facilities, a waste-free environment, drinking water, etc. In general, environmental and health factors are important determinants of health. and disease in developing countries. Poor sanitation contributes to an estimated 88% of deaths from diarrhea and other sanitation-related illnesses according to UNICEF’s 2006 Sanitation Report.
Unlike other universities or educational institutions, the health condition of the University of Liberia continues to cause health problems for its people, which is a problem. The people most affected by this problem are women and girls. They are more prone to easy contraction of diseases due to their biological makeup. While generally poor sanitation affects all genders, women are the most vulnerable. The poor conditions force them to use the filthy toilets only when they are most in a hurry and thus risk, for sure, being infected. According to WHO, women are prone to easy contraction of diseases such as yeast infection, gonorrhea, cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and exacerbates stunting (WHO 2019).
Most women and girls are infected but do not notice it immediately based on their body’s reaction. Some notice it but are afraid to go to the hospital for lack of good health insurance. Due to the poor healthcare system and the high costs associated with it, most of these women and girls carry these infections until they become chronic before seeking medical attention. As a result, some face other complications such as difficulty conceiving, painful intercourse, hot flashes, virgin discharge, etc., thus causing them to stay away from school, which which subsequently results in poor performance during school semesters.
According to the 2010 United Nations General Assembly, “target 6.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls for adequate and equitable sanitation for all. The target is tracked with the indicator of “safely managed sanitation services” – use of an improved type of sanitation facility that is not shared with other households and from which excreta produced are either safely processed on-site or transported and processed off-site”. Even if, Liberia being a signatory to most of these commitments, this clause is far from taking effect in Liberia, in particular on the campuses of the University of Liberia.
Additionally, some like to set up behind buildings and in out of sight places on campuses. This poses additional health risks. The effects of poor condition go beyond bathrooms. Some students who cannot use the unsanitary facilities prefer to excrete behind school buildings. This means that the food prepared and sold on the college campus is not safe because flies perch on that same droppings and sit on the food thus polluting the very food intake which is also most of the time responsible for the health of the students.
Who are the responsibles ?
The entire administration of the university – from the board of trustees, president, vice president for administration, dean of student affairs, faculty senate, student council leadership, etc. is responsible. The horrible state of the sanitary facilities should not be taken lightly, as none of the leaders will allow it for their home, especially when there are ways around it.
Why is the administrator responsible?
The entire university administration is responsible for their inaction. Over the years, with increasing college enrollment, the administration has not considered in its annual planning how to improve laundry facilities on UL campuses. Growth should come with expansion. With President Weah’s declaration of free college education, there is a huge increase in student enrollment. With this increase in student enrollment, we expect the university administration to consider the facility and how well it can accommodate the population. Budgeting for staff and office running costs should not be the sole focus of UL administration.
What should be done?
The administration of the University of Liberia can do the following to improve poor sanitation on campus:
- Make a budget allocation from student entrance and registration fees each semester for the improvement of laundry facilities on the UL campus.
- Build additional sanitary facilities or renovate, which can cost as little as five thousand dollars $5,000.00 each year.
- Ensure that existing washing facilities are renovated and supplied with running water.
- If the university cannot afford to buy water from Liberia Water and Sewer,
They can install submersible pumps on campus wells and set up water tanks that can supply water to the various washing facilities.
- Employ young people who are in the informal sector and looking for a job, train them in hygiene and provide them with protective equipment so that they are comfortable in their work.
I believe that when these measures are put in place, it will help reduce the risk for everyone, especially women and girls, of contracting diseases that could later lead to more serious problems, including death.
Poor sanitary conditions on college campuses negatively affect the health of the school population. Let us join hands to ensure that our University of Liberia campuses are hygienic enough for everyone’s health. A healthy environment is a healthy society and a healthy people.
Gloria D. Yancy, MPA candidate
University of Liberia Graduate School