The University of Liberia is the primary state-run university that has been operating since 1862. Recently, it has repeatedly failed to score any ranking on major world university rankings. In fact, on some, she doesn’t even appear in the first 100 universities in Africa. Times Higher Education Ranking (THE), the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) or the QS World University Rankings (QS).
Different factors account for this- the quality of the programs, the qualifications of the professors, the number of and quality of research and scientific innovations produced, infrastructure etc. Of these, the one that most concerns this article is the infrastructural development (or lack of). Mostly in educational institutions, by infrastructure, we mean more than just buildings. We consider how modern those buildings are and how many different types of facilities- libraries, classrooms, bathrooms, toilets, gyms etc., they contain.
Situate the University of Liberia’s campuses in this context.
The University of Liberia has two campuses, the main one, Capitol Bye Pass, and the bigger, newer one, at Fendall. Chances are, if one has been on any of the campus, you have had to use the bathroom. This, sadly, is nothing to write home about.
The sanitary conditions on the University of Liberia campuses is at best poor. Having gone through the walls of the University from undergrad to graduate program levels and having the 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 prevention of diseases by maintenance of good sanitary conditions, i.e., well-constructed washrooms, good toilet facilities, garbage free environment safe drinking water etc. Generally, environment and sanitation factors are significant determinants of health and illness in developing countries. Poor sanitation, contributes to about 88 percent of deaths from diarrhea and other sanitation related diseases according to the 2006 UNICEF report on sanitation.
Unlike other universities or institutions of learning, the sanitary condition of the University of Liberia continues to pose health challenges to her population, which is a problem. Those who are mostly affected by this problem are women and girls. They are more prone to easy contraction of diseases due to their biological makeup. While it is true that generally poor sanitary conditions affect all sexes, women are most vulnerable. The bad conditions force them to use the filthy bathroom facilities only when most pressed and thereby risk, certainly, being infected. According to the 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 immediately depending on their body’s reaction. Some do notice but are afraid to go to the hospital for lack of good Medicare. Due to the poor health care system and high cost associated with it, most of these women and girls carry these infections until they get chronic before they seek medical attention. As a result of this, some face other complications like difficulty in conceptions, painful sexual intercourse, flushing, virginal discharge etc, thereby causing them to stay away from school that subsequently leads to poor performance during school semesters.
According to the UN General Assembly 2010, “Sustainable Development Goal target 6.2 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 the excreta produced are either safely treated in situ, or transported and treated off-site”. Even though, Liberia being a signatory to most of these commitments, this clause is far from taking effect in Liberia especially at the University of Liberia campuses.
Additionally, some are fond of easing themselves behind buildings and in out-of-sight places on the campuses. This poses additional health risks. The effects of the poor condition go beyond the bathrooms. Some students who are unable to use the unhealthy facilities prefer to excrete behind the school buildings. This means food prepared and sold around the university campus are unsafe as flies pert on those very excretes and sit on foods thereby polluting the very food intake that are also most of the time responsible for the health conditions of students.
Who are those responsible?
The entire university administration- from the Board of Trustees, The President, Vice President for administration, Dean of student affairs, Faculty Senate, Student Council leadership etc. are responsible. The horrible state of the bathroom facilities is not to be treated lightly as none of those in leadership will allow such for their homes, especially when there are ways to work around it.
Why is the admin responsible?
The entire University Administration is responsible because of their inaction. Years in and out with the increase in the university’s enrollment, there has been no consideration by the administration during their annual planning to factor in how to improve the wash facilities on UL campuses. Growth should come with expansion. With President Weah pronouncement of Tuition free university learning, there is a huge increase in the enrollment of students. With this increase in students’ enrollment, we expect the administration of the university to consider the facility and how well it can accommodate the population. Budgeting for staffs and office running cost should not be the only focus of the UL administration.
What should be done?
The University of Liberia administration can do the following to improve the poor sanitation on the campus:
- Make some budget allocation from the entrance and registration fees of students every semester for the improvement of wash facilities on the UL campus.
- Build additional or renovate wash facilities, which can cost as little as Five Thousand Dollars $5,000.00 every year.
- Ensure that the already existing wash facilities are refurbished and in use with running water.
- If the university cannot afford to buy water supplies form the Liberia Water and Sewer,
They can install submersible pumps on the wells on campus and put up water tanks that can supply water to the various wash facilities.
- Employ young people who are in the informal sector and searching for job, train them on hygiene and provide protective gears to make them comfortable in doing their job.
I believe when these measures are put in place, it will help reduce the risk to everyone, especially women and girls from contracting diseases that could subsequently lead to more serious problems including death.
The poor sanitary conditions on the university campuses negatively affect the health of the school’s population. Let us join hands to ensure our University of Liberia campuses are hygienic enough for the health of everyone. A healthy environment is a healthy society and a healthy people.
Gloria D. Yancy, MPA Candidate
University of Liberia Graduate School