On the blog

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A risky business – health risks of poor water and sanitation

A guest blog by Sue Yardley, Senior water and sanitation policy officer at Tearfund.

The squits, the runs, butt pee - the list goes on for amusing names for diarrhoea and I’m sure you have your own story to tell especially if you’ve travelled to a developing country. I know I try my best to avoid getting it when I travel with work, but I can be caught out by eating that nice bit of lettuce on the side of my plate or brushing my teeth with tap water. However, for us it’s often only an inconvenience. For others it’s life-threatening.

But last week I heard some good news. A critical decision was made at the World Health Organisation to better address the links between dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene and health impacts.

It seems obvious doesn’t it? Of course there are health implications from drinking dodgy water or not having anywhere to wash your hands after going to the toilet. It’s common sense isn’t it? Well, yes, it is but it’s also a bit more complicated.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is one of the United Nations organisations and it does what it says on the tin – providing global leadership on health. Each year in May all the member countries of the WHO meet in Geneva to discuss ‘hot topics’ in health. The tendency in recent years has been to focus on vaccines to eradicate the many diseases that continue to unnecessarily rob the lives of millions of people. We’ve all benefited from vaccines; you might still have the physical scars. Vaccines are necessary, but they shouldn’t be the only solution.

At this years’ annual meeting of the WHO, which has just finished, crucial progress was made to highlight the need for preventative public health measures around clean water, basic hand washing and improved hygiene behaviour. At Tearfund we were carefully following the preparations for that discussion and were pleased that the resolution was ‘passed with consensus’ meaning that all the member countries agreed with the centrality of this issue.

Our next steps will be to ensure that the commitments made in the resolution are turned into actions on the ground as the progress and achievements will be reported on next year.

This decision at the WHO may not have made headline news, but it’s a small step towards preventing what is now the biggest killer of children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa, diarrhoea.

Photo: Sue Yardley / Tearfund

No comments:

Post a Comment