Urgent Call to Action: Why Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Deserves Global Attention

The global health community must stop treating water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as a little issue because it is not, according to Annie Msosa, the advocacy advisor for WaterAid in Malawi.

Speaking to Garry Aslanyan on the most recent episode of the Global Health Matters podcast, she said that “governments are spending on WASH… They are spending more right now on treating the effects of the lack of it. But we need them to spend more on actually sorting it out.”

WHO: 1.4 million people died in 2019 due to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene resources

In the current age of artificial intelligence and rapid technological and scientific progress, some 1.8 billion people worldwide still lack the fundamental luxury of access to running water in their homes, according to Aslanyan. Furthermore, an alarming 3.4 billion individuals are deprived of proper sanitation facilities. According to the World Health Organization, the consequence of this dire situation is the tragic loss of 1.4 million lives in 2019 due to inadequate WASH resources.

The lack of safe water and sanitation leads to the transmission of disease and increased antimicrobial resistance.

For women, specifically, the impacts can be huge. Globally, around 77 million days are lost by women just in time spent to fetch water, Msosa said. This has an effect on their livelihoods, productivity and mental health.

For pregnant women, the problem is even more acute. Physically, walking long distances and carrying heavy buckets of water can lead to spinal injuries, hernias, and genital prolapse, and it can also increase cases of spontaneous abortion in pregnant women.

Moreover, 90% of frontline healthcare workers are women, meaning they are significantly exposed to this issue.

“They cannot do their job properly, and it’s frustrating,” Msosa said. “It brings mental health issues because you want to help, but people are dying because you did not have all the tools, basic tools that you need for you to deliver a quality service to your patients.”

David Wheeler, the executive director of the Reckitt Global Hygiene Institute in the United States, who also joined the show, said that his team is looking “to build more collaboration across the NGOs, the charitable organizations and the academic community” to help solve the WASH challenge, “to answer a lot of the questions that are coming up that seem to be roadblocks to implement programs or to achieve better funding levels or to start programs and secure additional funding for WASH-based interventions.”

Msosa: Time to look at WASH differently

Msosa said that it is time to look at the problem of WASH differently and to be able to determine what the investment that is needed now is going to save a lot of lives and also money that would otherwise be spent treating diseases that could have been prevented.

“Health investment tends to be disease-focused, and WASH is not a disease, even though it impacts so many diseases,” she said.

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Image Credits: Global Health Matters.

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