Water, sanitation and hygiene: three crucial factors for health

04/06/2015
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Attendees at a session of the African Development Bank Group Annual Meetings on Thursday discussed the need to promote water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in order to improve health in Africa.

The panel was chaired by Raymonde Goudou Coffie, the Ivorian Minister of Health, and included Adèle Khuder, UNICEF Representative in Côte d'Ivoire, Qurashi Ali of the National University of Sudan, and Doulaye Koné, Senior Program Officer for Sanitation, Technologies and Tools with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The majority of the panelists declared the WASH program as essential for good health.

According to the participants, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the prevalence of water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery are major threats to public health in African countries. The role that supplies of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) play in protecting against these epidemics was explained by the panelists.

Mohamed El Azizi, Director of the AfDB's Water and Sanitation Department, outlined the key role played by these three factors in the health of populations. For him, investing in water and sanitation is important because each dollar can be turned into $7.50. He therefore encouraged member states to act in accordance with the commitments they made. He paid tribute to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its substantial contribution. According to El Azizi, 43 million Africans do not have access to water and sanitation. The AfDB, he said, is ready to pass on messages to the entire international community.

Coffie began by quoting Koffi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, who said, “We will not conquer disease if water and sanitation are not controlled". She stated that more than 2 million African children die each year because of the quality of water, sanitation and poor hygiene. Hand-washing, she said, had reduced cases of diarrhea-like diseases. She revealed that pharmacists had noticed that with preventive measures the sale of antibiotics had decreased in Côte d'Ivoire, highlighting the need to continue with awareness programs following the arrival of Ebola in West Africa. A few months before the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire, she recognized that some countries will not achieve their goals for water and sanitation. In water management, she thinks that local populations and the private sector should cooperate for greater equality in distribution.

The interventions focused on shortfalls in sanitary infrastructure in schools and stagnant water that attracts mosquitoes. The UNICEF representative recognized that it is impossible to preserve food for children if the water is unsafe, since it becomes a source of diarrhea-like diseases. She added that some adolescent girls leave school due to a lack of suitable toilets. She said that politicians should include an investment program for sanitation in their budgets. 

Osward Chanda, AfDB Division Manager, emphasized the need to address sanitation with the various ministries involved. "Harmonization of ministerial services is required," he said. The AfDB, according to Chanda, is interested in WASH. He appealed for cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and all players, because raising awareness about the benefits of good hygiene requires a strong campaign.