Connecting WASH with Neglected Tropical Diseases: A cross-sector imperative

The COUNTDOWN Programme has partnered with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) to produce a brief which puts the spotlight on water, sanitation and hygiene’s interactive role for a sustainable solution towards neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

COUNTDOWN convened a meeting on 27th July 2017, with our partners at the Institute of Development Studies. The aim was to hold a round table discussion with expert parasitologists, nutritionists, policy researchers and social scientists on how WASH activities can be prioritised in NTDs intervention. Discussions also considered the gender angle such as women, men, girls or boys’ interactions with their environment and how this affected their reality of living with or caring for those with NTDs.

The outcome of the discussions was the brief titled: “Connecting WASH with NTDS: A cross-sector imperative”. It provides the following recommendations:

  • Promote intersectoral working
  • Embed NTD action in local realities
  • Recognise women’s labour as finite
  • Develop strong, robust information systems and
  • Retain flexibility in policies and interventions.

You can read the detailed brief by downloading below.

COUNTDOWN collaborated with partners in Ghana and in the UK to publish an opinion piece in Trends in Parasitology titled "Tailoring Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Targets for Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis and Schistosomiasis Control."

We are going to be discussing WASH at the upcoming ISNTD Water Festival taking place at the Natural History Museum in London, on Thursday, 23rd November 2017. You can join us for further stimulating discussions on this topic on Twitter using the hashtag - #ISNTDWATER2017. 

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) remain a disturbing reality for most in the developing world and though efforts are made to control and eventually eliminate them, the question remains: are we prioritising the root cause of transmission? It was against this backdrop that the above meeting was convened.

People’s environments dictate how they come in contact with NTDs, especially those acquired through contact with infected water or faeces such as schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted Helminthiasis.

Out of over 20 NTDs in the world, schistosomiasis affects over a quarter of a billion people and soil-transmitted helminthiasis – 1.5 billion people. The World Health Organization (WHO) deploys Mass Drug Administration (MDA) as the main tool in controlling NTDs. But it has become evident that preventive chemotherapy alone will not eliminate the diseases as those treated still get re-infected. The root causes of transmission lie in factors such as environment, limited or no access to safe, clean water and effective sanitation and hygiene.

With 1.8 billion people around the world using a source of drinking water that is contaminated by faeces and 2.4 billion having limited to no access to basic sanitation services such as toilets or latrines according to WHO estimates; it is easy to see why WASH is important for control and sustainable elimination of NTDs.

Since 2015, WHO has pushed for WASH to be addressed in controlling NTDs but to date, limited action has been taken. In the latest Guideline: preventive Chemotherapy to control soil-transmitted helminth infections in at-risk population groups published by WHO,  improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene are highlighted to be the long term solution to soil-transmitted helminthiasis. The Fourth WHO Report on NTDs states that providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene is critical for preventing and providing care for most NTDs. This report admonishes WASH tends to be neglected relative to its importance and warns that without concerted effort to improve access to safe WASH, diseases will return to higher prevalence levels.