Globally, 2.4 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation, like a basic toilet. Over 660 million people do not have access to clean and safe drinking water.
For many people in the developed world, it may hard to imagine how you live without a toilet or a sink. I challenge you to pretend for a day, even half a day, that there are no useable toilets or sinks in your home, your office, the grocery store, the coffee shop, the library or any place you frequent.
This is the reality for over 30% of the world's population.
It's uncomfortable and incredibly inconvenient. When this problem extends to whole communities, it can lead to serious health consequences.
This week was World Toilet Day, an advocacy movement started nearly 15 years ago to bring more attention to the pressing problem of a lack of access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and its long-term consequences.
For young children, diarrheal diseases spread by inadequate sanitation, dirty water, and dirty hands can be damaging and deadly. In many of the poor and underserved communities where World Health Partners (WHP) works diarrhea, malnutrition, and respiratory diseases, including pneumonia, operate in a vicious cycle that ends in unnecessary deaths and stunted growth and development.
Diarrheal disease is the leading cause of malnutrition and the second leading cause of death in children younger than five. The World Health Organization suggests that a " significant proportion of diarrheal disease can be prevented through safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation and hygiene." Preventing diarrheal disease could, in turn, help avert some 860,000 child deaths a year caused by undernutrition.
At WHP, we don't work directly on the problem of lack of adequate sanitation but we treat the health consequences that result from it. We know, because we see it, that when the basic needs for sanitation and safe water go unmet, young children struggle to survive. We know the work of the many terrific organizations working on water, sanitation, and hygiene is essential to our work to save lives in underserved communities.
At WHP, we work to bring basic healthcare within a walkable distance, including often lifesaving care for young children with diarrheal disease. Our work is focused on building healthcare social franchises, which are networks of healthcare providers such as doctors, nurses, midwives, community health workers, and local pharmacists that work together as a referral networks and through telemedicine connections to bring higher level care to underserved communities.
Through these networks, we run community education campaigns to teach families as well as healthcare workers about the importance of fast diagnosis and treatment for young children with diarrhea. Our goal is to help mothers and healthcare workers in rural and remote villages understand that for a young child diarrhea can be life-threatening.
In these campaigns as well as in our clinics, WHP's network providers are focused on the timely treatment of diarrhea with dispersible zinc and low osmolarity oral rehydration salts (ORS). This approach has shown some great results:
• Over a two and half year period, we saw a 50% reduction in the incidence of diarrheal disease.
• Our program has seen a 20% reduction in the duration of diarrhea in children younger than five as a result of appropriate, consistent treatment.
• We have lowered the out-of-pockets expenses for a family treating diarrheal disease by 25% by eliminating unnecessary care.
When compared to local healthcare providers outside of the WHP network, WHP Sky providers are significantly more likely to talk to patients about the importance of handwashing, nutritious foods, and fluids in caring for young children. We know these are important steps forward in fostering the growth of young children and in saving their lives.
We are continuing to educate the families we work with and our network providers about the importance of fast diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia and diarrhea for young children. Although we are committed to working in underserved communities to treat these life threatening medical conditions, the ultimate goal would be that such treatment is not needed because preventative measures have found effective traction.