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Sri Lanka

Water, sanitation and hygiene the priority at WHO Geneva assembly

By Ifham Nizam

Water, sanitation and hygiene will be given top priority for the first time when senior officials on the World Health Organisation meet in Geneva for a discussion this week.

International development agency WaterAid, in a resolution, made the plea to give priority to sanitation and water and adopt measures to arrest and prevent the spread of cholera. This is due to be discussed and approved at the Assembly in Geneva.

WaterAid South Asia’s Policy Advisor Mustafa Talpur told The Island yesterday that the Assembly provided a vital opportunity to achieve real progress in public health through improving the availability of clean water, better sanitation and hygiene.

“It is the first time that a discussion on the role of water, sanitation and hygiene in health will be undertaken,” he added. He says Cholera can be a thing of the past if leaders at this week’s Assembly focus on improving access to sanitation and water in the world’s poorest countries. “Cholera is a highly infectious diarrheal disease and can be life-threatening, but the measures to prevent it are basic – access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, accompanied by good hygiene practices,” he added.

According to him, the World Health Organisation has repeatedly stated that efforts to address cholera should be focused on improving water and sanitation; there has been a strong push for stricken countries to adopt the use of oral vaccines. “We warned that vaccines must not be the sole method applied to contain cholera but that they should be part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent the disease. “The development of safe, effective and potentially affordable oral cholera vaccines is important. However, it is imperative that this approach is complementary to, and not a substitute for the existing effective prevention and control measures; particularly safe water and sanitation,” he added.

In South Asia, nearly one billion people live without access to adequate sanitation and more than 700 million practice open defecation – exposing people to serious and potentially fatal health risks as a result.

Diarrhoeal diseases are the leading cause of child mortality in India, Nepal and Pakistan. In Bangladesh, it is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old, after pneumonia.

In 2009, an outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases in 20 districts of Nepal killed more than 346 people and affected 62,016 people. One district alone, Jajarkot, suffered 154 deaths. In India, at least 140 people died in similar circumstances in Orissa state in 2007.

The Island May 18, 2011, 10:02 pm


About WashMedia-South Asia

WashMedia-South Asia is a group of South Asian journalists working on water, sanitation and hygiene issues. Theses journalists are from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.


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