The fight against NTDs starts with WASH

22 mars 2021

By Gráinne Hutton, Program Officer, Speak Up Africa

At this very moment, over 1.5 billion people are affected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) worldwide, with over 600 million of these people living in Africa.

These diseases hit the most marginalised communities hardest, including those who often lack adequate sanitation and hygiene systems – a crucial solution for preventing and treating NTDs. Where there is inadequate or even no WASH provision in place, there are more cases of NTDs, perpetuating an endless cycle of poverty and suffering. The two are inextricably linked and by addressing one, we can help to eradicate the other.

There are three important links between WASH and NTDs that must be considered if we are to eliminate NTDs for good:

  • Firstly, access to safe water greatly reduces the risk of contracting several NTDs such as schistosomiasis, a parasitic infection spread by certain freshwater worms.
  • Secondly, clean water and good sanitation are both needed to handle symptoms of NTDs like leprosy and to ensure that NTDs requiring prolonged care, such as cutaneous leishmaniasis, are sufficiently managed.
  • Thirdly, safe-drinking water is vital to ensuring that NTD prevention and treatments are effective.

Adequate WASH services therefore provide the foundation for fighting NTDs. Coinciding with World Water Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched its reinvigorated Global Strategy on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for NTD Control and Elimination, which complements the guidance laid out in the 2021-2030 NTD Roadmap. In 2015, the WHO mobilized the WASH community to accelerate efforts to control and eliminate NTDs; now, it has updated these recommendations to apply the lessons learned over the past 5 years.

The newly reinvigorated Global WASH-NTD Strategy builds on the momentum of the NTD Roadmap launched earlier this year and sustains our efforts in the fight against NTDs. As a community, it highlights that we must work to strengthen programmatic responses to NTDs and to enhance coordination and collaboration – not only between WASH stakeholders but across health and other sectors too. Implementing health care programmes with a strong WASH component will be crucial. Only through collaborative action can we raise awareness and drive action to ultimately achieve universal access to adequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene in areas endemic for NTDs by 2030.

Since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 has drawn attention to the sanitation crisis Africa is facing, that also threatens our fight against NTDs. By improving access to clean water, good hygiene and sanitation systems across Africa, we can also accelerate and sustain progress against NTDs and save millions of lives. With the arrival of the latest Roadmap and Global WASH-NTD Strategy, I am optimistic we can make sustainable progress in the fight against NTDs.

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