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WaSH – Impacts on health

January 28, 2020

WaSH stands for ‘water, sanitation and hygiene’. Universal, affordable and sustainable access to WaSH is a key public health issue within international development. Successful WaSH programmes can improve health, life expectancy, student learning, and gender equality, while reducing poverty and infant mortality. Since 2000, billions of people have gained access to basic drinking water and […]

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Water, Sanitation, Hygiene

WaSH stands for ‘water, sanitation and hygiene’. Universal, affordable and sustainable access to WaSH is a key public health issue within international development. Successful WaSH programmes can improve health, life expectancy, student learning, and gender equality, while reducing poverty and infant mortality.

Collecting water from a contaminated source – Uganda

Since 2000, billions of people have gained access to basic drinking water and improved sanitation facilities. But, often, these remain unsafe. Many homes, medical facilities and schools still lack soap and water for handwashing. This puts the health of all people – but especially young children – at risk of contracting diseases, such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

Mother and baby visit a medical facility in Uganda

Lack of sanitation contributes to hundreds of thousands of child deaths every year. The statistics are shocking:

  • Today 1 in 3 people or 2.2 billion people around the world lack safe drinking water.

  • Over half of the global population or 4.2 billion people lack safe sanitation.

  • Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces.

  • Some 297 000 children – more than 800 every day – under five who die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water. 

  • Children younger than age 5 in countries experiencing protracted conflict are 20 times more likely to die from causes linked to unsafe water and sanitation than from direct violence.

  • 1 million deaths each year are associated with unclean births. Infections account for 26% of neonatal deaths and 11% of maternal mortality. 

  • Hygiene promotion is the most cost-effective health intervention.

  • 2 out of 5 people or 3 billion people around the world lack basic handwashing facilities at home. 

  • Universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene would reduce the global disease burden by 10%.

In Uganda, the situation is particularly desperate

The current child mortality rate in Uganda is listed at 131 per 1,000 live births, or an effective mortality rate of 13.1%. This makes it the highest under-5 mortality rate in Eastern Africa. According to reports from the World Health Organization, Uganda is one of 24 countries that contribute 80% of the world’s deaths of children who are under the age of 5.

It is estimated that diarrhoea alone, one of three major childhood killers in Uganda, kills 33 children every day. In most cases, children get the disease by drinking unsafe water or coming into contact with contaminated hands that have not been washed with soap. 

Early childhood diarrhoea can be deadly. Even when it is not, it contributes to Uganda’s high levels of stunting, which goes on to undermine children’s cognitive development and performance at school.

One key measure that will reduce childhood illness and death is to stop using open fields or the bush as toilets. In Uganda, nearly a tenth of the population practices open defecation, and two thirds of households do not use soap when washing their hands. 

Through our programmes in Uganda, IRT aims to:

Delivering education in WaSH to a community
  1. Provide clean water through boreholes and protected springs, located close to communities.
  2. Encourage communities to construct pit latrines.
  3. Provide education in sanitation and hygiene measures – including the use of ‘tippy-taps’ for handwashing, dish-drying racks, the need to wash hands with soap and to ensure the cleanliness of homes.
  4. Create waste management systems through the use of rubbish pits.