By Andrew Cooney, Global Health Council
In the wake of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), great strides were made in the area of improved access to clean water. However, this success did not, unfortunately, translate when it came to sanitation and hygiene.[i] As a result, last year when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed, a heavier emphasis was placed on the need for rapid improvement to sanitation facilities and overall hygiene in the some of the world’s poorest nations, primarily Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Three organizations – WaterAid, Management Sciences for Health, and IMA World Health – in particular, are leading this charge and committing themselves to tackle what is an extremely urgent problem plaguing many nations. A staggering 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, underscoring just how significant this problem is.[ii]
WaterAid conducts its programs in many of the same states that struggled to meet the sanitation target in the MDGs including Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea. Empowerment of local community members is a huge part of WaterAid’s work on the ground. The organization encourages and works with local partners to plan, build, and manage water supplies and improved sanitation facilities. Additionally, WaterAid advocates for and calls upon governments and international governing bodies to take firm steps towards improved water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in health care facilities. The organization encourages partnerships between governments and local organizations in order to ensure long lasting positive change. In the spring of 2015, WaterAid launched Healthy Start, a four year initiative that outlines the importance of WASH in the development and well-being of both newborns and children. Having a safe and healthy environment is critical to infants and children as it significantly cuts down on infant mortality rates. Sixteen thousand children die every day, mostly from diseases that are preventable or easily treatable. A number of these are from water-borne diseases such as Cholera and Diarrhea.[iii] A major part of this campaign includes advocating to ensure that WASH is implemented into health policy. Additionally, it is important that WASH is delivered locally and nationally by state governments.[iv]
While Management Sciences for Health (MSH) does work across different areas, including HIV/AIDS, chronic diseases, and reproductive health, they also focus on clean water and the importance of having clean, safe sanitation facilities. According to MSH’s website, the organization “implements evidence-based programs to improve nutrition and water, sanitation, and hygiene practices in developing countries.”[v] One of the organization’s major WASH projects is in Madagascar, a country struggling to catch up in terms of sanitation and hygiene. Thanks, in part, to the USAID Mikolo project, roughly 9,000 people gained access to an improved sanitation facility and over 800 villages are now free from the practice of open defecation. MSH has other nutrition and WASH projects underway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Afghanistan.[vi]
IMA World Health (IMA) tackles many of the same health issues as MSH, utilizing its network of faith-based organizations to accomplish a broad array of health initiatives and projects spanning five continents. From HIV/AIDS, to community development and non-communicable diseases, IMA has an impact on those people who suffer the most from underdevelopment and a lack of medical facilities and infrastructure. IMA works with Community Health Workers (CHWs) to convey accurate WASH messages, such as promoting correct hand washing techniques, in most of its programs. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, IMA manages a program, which aids the Ministry of Health in integrating improved WASH techniques and practices into five provinces. Additionally, 200 health facilities are being rehabilitated and 200 more facilities will be built in the near future. These health facilities will be important in ensuring that people in need do not have to travel too far to seek medical attention. These new medical centers will also allow IMA to place qualified, WASH-conscious, medical professionals in key positions.[vii]
There is a significant amount of work that needs to be done in the area of water, sanitation, and hygiene, which is why the diverse organizations such as the ones described above, while different in their focus and function, are so important. Changing the attitudes of governments and international governing bodies will not take place overnight, but with continued and growing support to the immediacy of WASH issues, it is only a matter of time before positive policy change occurs both within nations, and around the world.
[i] Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. March 6, 2012.(http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp2012/en/).
[ii] World Health Organization. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs392/en/)
[v] Nutrition and WASH. Management Sciences for Health. (http://www.msh.org/our-work/health-area/nutrition-and-wash)
[vi] Management Sciences for Health. (http://www.msh.org/our-work/health-area/nutrition-and-wash)
[vii] IMA World Health. (http://imaworldhealth.org/water-sanitation-and-hygiene/)