By Sharon Atieno

Kenya, like many sub- Saharan African countries, is still grappling with improving sanitation and making it accessible to all. Unimproved sanitation and open defecation (OD) are among the key challenges facing sanitation in the country.

Out of the more than 70,000 villages in Kenya, only 19,100 (24%) have been certified open defecation free (ODF) according to data from the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), real time monitoring system. Further, only five counties have been given ODF status: Siaya, Busia, Isiolo, Migori and Kitui.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014, reveals that about 4 in 10 urban dwellers (43%) use an improved facility that is shared by two or more households, as compared with only about 1 in 10 (12%) rural dwellers. Approximately two-thirds of rural Kenyans usually use a non-improved toilet facility (66%), most commonly a pit latrine without a slab or an open pit (48%).

Being that delivery of water and sanitation services is a constitutional mandate of the counties, most are making efforts to improve sanitation facilities.

Some counties have worked in partnership with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)-centered organizations to implement safe toilets (SaTos) as a means of improving the sanitation level among their populace.

Siaya County is an example.

“In climbing the sanitation ladder, we are talking about improving from where we were. People were defecating in the bush; we have talked to them they have dug pit latrines. From the pit latrines now we start improving these particular services through coming up with things like the SaTos where people can do the squatting and sitting,” said Ken Orwenji, Director Health Services, Siaya County.

SaTos is a blue plastic molds that fit into a concrete base over a pit with a squattal lid at the bottom which opens and closes to allow urine or stool to drop into the pit. It started being implemented in the county in 2018 through a partnership with The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Kenya Integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (KIWASH) Project.

The SaTo products are categorized into three: SaTo pan, SaTo flex and SaTo stool. The lid blocks odors and insects from coming in and out of the pit. Further, a small amount of water about 200ml to one litre opens the lid to eliminate waste and then shuts itself automatically.

SaTo flex, SaTo pan and SaTo stool respectively from left to right

“People have embraced them and installed them in their latrines. It improves the issues of pit latrine dealing with odor and the presence of insects and also looking at the aesthetics, the condition of this latrine depicts that they are easily washable. They can be used even with small children who fear looking at the whole pit,” Orwenji notes.

“It is an improved aspect because when we had the pit latrine, we were encouraging people to have an aperture cover but with the introduction of the SaTo we no longer do the aperture cover because it self-locks.”

Philemon Omondi, 78, a resident of Ambira village, has installed a SaTo pan and a SaTo stool in his two pit latrines.

He says that apart from keeping away flies and cockroaches which used to come out of the pit latrine, the SaTos have removed the odor that used to hang around his compound because of the open pit latrine. The lid at the bottom locks in the stench, making it comfortable for someone to even sit near the verandah and eat, he adds.

Omondi’s installed SaTo pan

For an elated George Oduor, 56, who resides in the same village, the SaTo pan installed in his pit latrine has transformed the experience he has easing himself at night.

“I am now very comfortable visiting the toilet at night. When we were using the pit latrine, a rat or a snake would scare you and even cause you to accidentally injure yourself while trying to run away,” he narrates.

“But now, I know that such animals cannot be found in this toilet, because once they sit on the squattal lid, it will automatically drop into the pit and it will not be able to come out.”

“Moreover, the SaTos have encouraged cleanliness. Once you are done with your business, you pour water you don’t just leave it the way we used to, the way we did when we were using pit latrines, this keeps diseases away,” the former professional footballer adds.

However, Oduor laments that if the SaTo pan is not properly fixed by the handy man, chances of someone falling into the pit when they accidentally slip is high.

“My daughter, 11, accidentally stepped on the pan and it broke and sunk into the pit. I blame the people who had fixed it on our toilet as they did not calculate the measurements properly. My daughter would have broken her leg or she would have fell into the pit,” Oduor remarked.

Oduor’s pit latrine whose SaTo fell inside

Basing on the experience that his wife has when she uses the SaTo pan toilet, he advises that the SaTo stool is the best option for people with joint and back problems.

“The SaTo stool makes it easier for someone to comfortably sit and stand without much difficulty unlike the SaTo pan where people with such problems experience difficulty standing up after some minutes of squatting,” Oduor said.

“I can walk in and out of the toilet without feeling any joint pain or tiredness unlike before when using the pit latrine,” said 27-year old Donald Onyango, noting that he had not realized how used he had gotten to using the SaTo stool until recently when he visited his aunt in Asembo, a nearby sub-county- where he experienced a lot of difficulties using the pit latrine.

Besides, I don’t just sit, but I can also chat while doing my business on the SaTo stool, he adds.

“Hygienically, it saves me from having to wash urine splash as in the case of normal pit because with simple pouring of water after use, it’s done. The material is made in a form that it’s not adhesive and the feaces slides down easily,” Onyango notes.

However, the SaTo stool is meant for family use, hence multiple users when I have visitors is a risk factor for sexual hygiene, he notes.

An installed SaTo stool

The use of SaTos is being championed by community health volunteers (CHVs). They do it daily as part of their routine when they do household visits to promote health and WASH messages. It is also serving as an income generating activity for them.

“When we sell the SaTos we keep the money in our group account which we use to purchase a new supply once the stock is finished and at the end of the year, we distribute the profit depending on how many each CHV has sold. From the sale of the SaTos we are not only helping the community but we are also able to take care of our needs and feed our children,” notes Elizabeth Were, a CHV in Ambira village.

The SaTos are sold at different prices depending on how much it cost to purchase. A SaTo stool goes for KShs. 1200 (about USD 12), a SaTo pan costs KShs. 600 (about USD 6) while a SaTo flex costs shs. 950 (USD 10).

However, not all residents of Ambira Village can afford the innovative toilets. Wilfrida Mugenya, 83, who lives alone in her home, is an example. She cannot afford any of the SaTos! The sole dependent she has, is a son who lives in Nairobi and is overburdened with taking care of his children and the children of his late siblings, Wilfrida intimates.

“I am unable to raise the money to buy such a toilet at the moment. The little money I get, I can only use it to feed myself and buy personal commodities,” she said.

Elizabeth Were (left) with Wilfrida Mugenya (right) during a household visit

Millicent Ouma, CHV at Imbaya B village notes that sometimes people buy the SaTos but installing becomes difficult. “Paying the mason costs about shs. 300 (Approx. USD 3), and then you have to buy cement and sand which is costly for some people. Others have resorted to fixing theirs traditionally just using mud but it is still ok,” Ouma said.

So far, more than 60,000 SaTo products have been purchased in the county. Other counties where the SaTos are being implemented include: Kitui, Busia, Migori, Homabay and Kisumu.

Orwenji says that now they are working on installing SaTos in early childhood development centers (ECDE) and health facilities in the county.