Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Improved Sanitation Could Prevent More than 2 Million Child Deaths a Year

A new series of studies on sanitation reveals that unsafe sanitation and drinking water results in nearly 20 percent of all child deaths in the world and at least 7 percent of disease across the world. The studies, published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine Journal, found that this year 2.6 billion people, including over one billion children, lack basic sanitation, two-thirds of which live in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, at any given time nearly half of the urban populations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America have a disease linked to poor sanitation and hygiene.

The progress to improve access to better sanitation has been slow due to lack of national policies that establish clear institutional responsibilities, and population growth in urban areas of developing countries. Despite these constraints, international donors, United Nations agencies, and developing country governments can reduce this global disease burden. The Millennium Development Goal sanitation target calls for the amount of people living without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation to be halved by 2015 from levels in 2000.

Although the main goal of improving sanitation is health, there are also social and economic benefits. Some of the main motivators for sanitation adoption among householders in developing countries are spurred by the desire for privacy, wanting to be modern, and avoiding embarrassment. In addition, for women, household sanitation reduces the risk of rape or attack when using public latrines, and for girls, school sanitation facilities results in fewer days missed from school due to staying at home during menstruation.

The economic benefits of improved sanitation could save some $7 billion dollars per year in health care costs and attribute to greater overall GDP due to a greater number of deaths averted. Furthermore, there would be fewer days lost at work or school due to illness or caring for an ill relative. The cost-benefit ratios of achieving the MDG sanitation target shows that every one dollar spent on sanitation generates about ten dollars worth of economic benefit, mainly by gains in productivity from not being ill.
The involvement of international policy is crucial to accelerating the achievement of universal access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene. Paul Hunter, a leader of one of the PLoS studies, writes, “We know enough now about the importance of improved water supply, sanitation, and hygiene ... to consider universal access to these services to be an urgent imperative."

- Martina Georgieva

SOURCE: Reuters , PLoS Collections