Over 1 billion people around the globe suffer from neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). NTDs include diseases such as lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (snail fever), soil-transmitted helminthes (STH)—round worm, whip worm, hook worm—and trachoma. The international development community and leading pharmaceutical companies have partnered to address the plight of NTDs with mass drug administration (MDA) initiatives. These MDA “treatment” programs are good work, and they are making a huge difference.
Yet as Benjamin Franklin reminds us, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
Safe water and improved sanitation represent important strategies to the “prevention” of NTDs. Soil transmitted helminthes (STH), schistosomiasis and trachoma are all linked to poor hygiene, contaminated food and water and a lack of improved sanitation. Improved infrastructure, hygiene education and WASH behavior change present key steps to eliminating NTDs and preventing re-infections after mass drug administration programs.
Sanitation is an important strategy to reduce painful and debilitating tropical diseases that impact nutrition (especially among children), can cause severe disabilities, impede mental and physical development, reduce school enrollment, work opportunities, and hinder economic productivity.
It is encouraging to see new discussions about how sanitation interventions can play a vital role in preventing NTDs. Two new reports contribute to this dialogue, and help bolster arguments for prioritizing better sanitation solutions as a central element of public health programming.
Desk Review of WASH and NTDs:
Sanitation helps address NTDs in School-based Intervention: