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2020 India - Understanding the Effects of Poor Sanitation on Children

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Last Updated: January 10, 2020, 12:29 IST

2020 India - Understanding the Effects of Poor Sanitation on Children

Learning how to the integration of proper sanitation, clean water and better vaccine coverage is our best safeguard for the future.

Globally, close to 800 children under five years die daily from diarrheal diseases caused by unsanitary living conditions and lack of clean water.

Following on the UN General Assembly decision in 2010 to recognise
clean drinking water
and sanitation as a fundamental human right in 2016, the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focussed the spotlight ending open defecation by 2030.


Several infections spread through direct contact with human excreta or through carrier organisms or vectors like mosquitoes, lice, ticks, fleas and rats. At least 10% of the world's population may consume food irrigated by questionably or untreated wastewater. But even through indirect contamination of food and water sources or through the soil, viruses, protozoa, bacteria and parasitic worms can spread quickly.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that almost 4,32,000 deaths worldwide are caused directly by poor sanitation linked disease transmission. Some of these include:

Bacterial diseases like Typhoid, Cholera and Diarrhoeal diseases that can be fatal, especially when it comes to young children.

Viruses like Hepatitis A and Polio

Protozoa like Amoebic dysentery) and Giardiasis.

Parasitic worms like Roundworm, Hookworm, Tapeworm and Bilharzia.

Many of these pose threats like diarrhoea that can cause dehydration and death, mild to severe fevers, muscle pain, jaundice, severe cramps, anaemia and organ damage. While diarrhoeal deaths are easily prevented and are no longer one of the five leading causes of death worldwide, the threat remains high in places with high incidents of faecal-oral transmission. Poor personal hygiene which includes inadequate cleansing of the body and clothes can encourage external body parasites while bathing in infested or contaminated waters, can be equally dangerous.

International bodies and local governments are working hard to implement comprehensive disease control and prevention through large scale vaccination efforts and awareness campaigns. But without enough clean water, better infrastructure and sustained sanitary conditions, the future of our children remains bleak.

2.0 billion people around the globe do not have access to basic sanitation, of which 673 million still defecate in open areas.

Poor communities in overpopulated urban areas or distant rural pockets get stuck in a never ending cycle. Sewage is untreated and dumped into rivers, lakes, landfills or stormwater drains that empty into the sea. Poor hygiene, sanitation and open defecation cause close to 297 000 deaths in children under the age of five every year. While the vaccine programs that protect and stop the spread of life-threatening diseases are being given a boost, their efficacy can be severely reduced in unsanitary conditions. Live oral vaccines are delivered over vast distances, don't require specialised equipment or extensive training to administer and can offer better protection. Yet, their effectiveness takes a severe hit in communities where water, sanitation and hygiene are meagre.

Environmental Enteric Dysfunction or EED caused by repeated bouts of diarrhoea causes inflammation in the intestine and lowers its ability to absorb both vaccines and other nutrients. This can cause severe malnutrition and children who suffer from this may show inadequate or zero vaccine response, thus leaving them vulnerable.

But change is possible. If we integrate the idea of better sanitation into the comprehensive vaccine outreach and delivery programs, chances are two things will happen - vaccine efficacy will improve, and the community's overall health will see a definite upswing.

This is a partnered post.

first published:January 10, 2020, 12:29 IST
last updated:January 10, 2020, 12:29 IST
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