Since time immemorial, residents of Kasunganyanja parish, Kibiito Sub County in Bunyangabu District have been silently struggling with stigma caused by brown teeth.
The brown teeth, according to health experts, are caused by the consumption of water-rich in too much fluoride. In Kasunganyanga, unfortunately, all the water sources were having such water with River Ntabago as the major source of water for home use and consumption.
But thanks to the Prevention of Infectious Disease Through Sanitation and Safe Water Supply Project that was started by Caritas Fort Portal – HEWASA in 2018 to address this problem.
According to the Project Coordinator, Vincent Twinabo, the people of Kibiito Sub County, and Town Councils of Rwimi and Kibiito had for a long time failed to get a clean water source. He says that as a result, they set out to reduce the consumption of fluoride-rich water that was causing corrosion of the teeth for those who were consuming it.
Twinabo says that they started by constructing a 16-kilometer gravity flow water pipe from Rwenzori mountain to these water-stressed areas.
“We also constructed three 30-cubic meter reservoir tanks in each of the three Sub Counties and we also constructed 32 tap stands in the same areas,” Twinabo explains.
This meant that people stopped fetching water from open shallow wells and River Ntabago. Consequently, the over 1,000 residents of Kasunganyanja parish stopped consuming the water that had for long changed the color of their teeth.
Gladys Basemera, one of the residents of Kasunganyanja, says that she would always feel stigmatized every time people laughed at her brown teeth.
“What would hurt me most was the thinking that I would stay in that situation for forever. But thanks to Caritas Fort Portal – HEWASA, the Fort Portal Diocese Health Office, and the people of Germany, for extending fluoride-free piped water to Ntabago Village and other areas with excess fluoride. I believe my teeth with regain their natural color with time and I will start laughing without closing my mouth with hands for fear of being laughed at,” Basemera says.
Basemera is also happy that by the time her children grow up, they will have clean white teeth and they will not be stigmatized for having brown teeth at schools where they will be studying from,” she adds.
But as a Kasunganyanja parish councilor, Basemera is also having a sigh of relief as she will no longer be tasked to explain the scarcity of clean water in the area.
“Extension of the fluoride-free water to the area has given me and my fellow leaders great relief as it used to be hard for us to address the community meetings where people would lament about lack of safe water, costly clean water alternatives and brown teeth,” Basemera notes with a smile.
Ismail Asiimwe, a resident of Ntabago villages says that to reduce the stigmatization of his children because of having brown teeth, he would take them to schools far away from him.
Asiimwe says that the logic behind this was to ensure the children get a different source of water so that their teeth are not damaged completely.
“We are no longer ashamed of the colored teeth; it will be forgotten among our children. Socio-economically, the community also gained value. Our land has gained value as the fear of teeth coloring water has been settled,” Asiimwe says.
Other than fighting the stigma of brown teeth, the project has also reduced the burden of people overspending on clean water from places as a far as Kasese District were twenty-litre jerry can of clean water from would cost over 2,000 Uganda Shillings. With this water project, the same jerry can of water is at 100 Uganda shillings only.
For Charity Byarugaba, also a resident, fluoride-free water means more happy life for the people of Ntabago.
“It will Reduce on the incidence of diseases like, typhoid, and diarrhea and in the community that has always been caused by consumption of contaminated water,” Byarugaba says.
This also means that Byarugaba will no longer spend on treating her children that would fall sick due to dirty water consumption and will be investing the money in development projects.
Twinabo says that though the water project has been a success, it has finally ended and they will not be able to extend the same service to other areas that have similar challenges.
“We also faced the challenge of convincing people to pay for this service. Most of the residents wanted water to be completely free but how could we maintain the water sources? The little money they pay for each jerry can cater for maintenance,” he says.
The extension of clean fluoride-free water to Kasunganyanja and other areas has given a lease to the communities. It has greatly contributed to their health, socio-economic change can now take root and communities can move into a situation whereby they are more stable, productive and self-reliant.