Can Pay Toilets Save Lives?

Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Africa, Entrepreneurship, Green, Health

Providing low fee pay toilets in schools, slums, and cities may not seem like a revolutionary idea. But when you consider that since 2008,  50% of the world’s population now resides in cities, (by 2030, this number could swell to 5 billion), and that currently, 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation including safe drinking water, which results in 1.5 million child deaths annually from otherwise treatable diseases like diarrhea- it’s literally a life saving concept with great future implications.

Dr. LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization states that, ‘water and sanitation are the primary drivers of public health,‘ and the organization notes that within the sub-Saharan population of Africa, only half receives public sanitation services, and ‘80 percent of diseases in Africa are caused by water-borne pathogens.’

Enter, Ecotact, and Founder and Entrepreneur, David Kuria, who first addressed this issue with the construction of his Company’s flagship product, the  Iko-Toilet. The Kenyan slum village, where the first facility was installed, had a population of 60,000 people and only two portable toilet units and no reliable safe water delivery infrastructure.

The Iko-Toilet, is primarily a stand alone public sanitation station with pay toilet and shower facilities, but importantly, it also provides a communal point of safe, clean drinking water, that addresses the myriad health issues associated with polluted water consumption.

Current stations now also offer shoe shines and ATMs, “to create multiple reasons for the public to visit the facilities,” notes Kuria in an interview with Circle of Blue Water News, as “African culture can be a hindrance to talking about sanitation issues.”  By “opening the dialogue about public sanitation,” Kuria describes Ecotact’s mission and impact as going beyond addressing the associated health issues of providing the low fee facilities, to fomenting a social transformation in attitudes toward public sanitation,” as well. And as the name Iko-Toilet suggests, there is a third level of environmental impact, around land and water conservation.

How it works:

Ecotact, Ltd., receives funding from organizations specializing in sanitation innovation, such as the World Toilet Organization, and partners with local public water and sanitation municipalities, to provide the proper infrastructure for the facilities.


Ecotact, and Mr. Kuria have completed construction of 40 facilities in 12 Municipalities in Kenya that provide an average of 300,000 people with daily water and sanitation, in addition Ecotact is creating jobs for local Kenyans, and plans to expand into Tanzania and Uganda.

Ecotact has received numerous awards, including the 2010 Dubai International Best Practice Award to Improve the Living Environment, as well as the AfricaSan Award, from the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) for promoting large-scale behavior change in the area of sanitation in Kenya. Kuria has also been the recipient of both Skoll and Ashoka Fellowships.

A Social Enterprise Model 

Ecotact was also named as the Africa Social Enterprise of the Year in 2009, by the World Economic Forum, and plans to establish franchise opportunities as it scales up across East Africa. Ecotact will target youth as a component in the model, with the vision of not only providing sanitation, but also providing the country with sanitation entrepreneurs. Toward this goal, Ecotact has received support from the Government of Kenya, Athi Water Services Board, and the Ministry of Youth Affairs.

Images are from the Ecotact website.

Jen Hutchinson

Jen recently graduated with an M.A. in Social Entrepreneurship and Change from Pepperdine University Graduate School in Los Angeles, following 17 years of for profit operational and financial business management. She synthesizes this experience, into consultancy services for nonprofit leaders and organizations, to amplify brand and mission impact, and to create fiscal and organizational sustainability, including incorporating social enterprise models into their operations. She is also currently developing her own social enterprise in the K5 Visa Incubator in Orange County, CA.

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