In 2015, the UN set the Sustainable Development Goal of having safely managed water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) worldwide by 2030.
This hope has brought the direct need for these improvements to the forefront. Some two billion people have since gained access to improved water and sanitation sources. But the work to eliminate WASH issues is far from over – 700 hundred million people still do not have access to improved water sources, 2.5 billion do not use improved sanitation facilities, and 1 billion people still practice open defecation.
Poor WASH impacts children in unique ways and specifically affects child mortality rates. Children are especially susceptible to health issues from unimproved water sources because of their developing body systems – digestive, respiratory, lymphatic, etc. Their survival rates from disease are also much lower when basic sanitation and hygiene resources are compromised. Worldwide, 6,000 children die of water-related diseases every day.
The evidence to support a connection between child health outcomes and WASH conditions has often been limited and inconsistent, but recently, the development world has made a push to reexamine this relationship. The findings indicate that people with access to safe water and proper sanitation facilities have much lower risks of child mortality and diarrhea. Historically, the most profound data has been linked to the way poor WASH impacts diarrhea-based diseases among children.
WASH and Diarrheal Episodes
Children living in rural places plagued by WASH issues experience an average of four to eight diarrheal episodes per year between birth and age two. This suggests that they are exposed to a great number of pathogens during their first two years of life. Diarrhea globally accounts for 1.4 million child deaths per year. The World Health Organization suggests that 58% of these deaths are linked to unsafe water supply, poor sanitation, and lack of hygiene.
Children are at high risk of being exposed to these dangerous pathogens in public play areas as child play often occurs where soil and surface water have been infected with pathogens that cause serious health issues when ingested. Human feces is also a major contributor to soil-transmitted bacteria that cause diarrhea and other similar issues in young children. With the continual practice of open defecation in many communities, there are rich opportunities for children to ingest fecal bacteria, which leads to illness and possibly death. Data indicate that safer fecal disposal reduces childhood diarrhea occurrences by 37%. There is much needed work to do in ending open defecation and installing proper latrines and toilets for people to use in these communities.
WASH and Child Health Care
Another focus area in WASH that would improve overall child health and reduce mortality rates is improved sanitation in healthcare facilities. Having clean water and proper sanitation in delivery rooms and during health services for mothers and babies would help reduce childhood mortality. Fundamental hygiene during labor and delivery, such as cleaning hands and surfaces, reduces the risk of infections and death up to 25%.
There is a great need in Tanzania’s healthcare facilities for more WASH education. Workers must be taught the importance of proper WASH practices, and we must work to ensure the proper equipment is available for them to use.
Improving and Saving Lives
In order for children to thrive physically and cognitively in their communities, there must be better WASH practices. Fundamental education on things like handwashing, food preparation, and proper waste disposal saves and improves lives. For example, handwashing with soap can reduce diarrheal diseases by 42 to 47 percent.
Every year, close to 11 million children die worldwide before their 5th birthday primarily from preventable diseases, and another 300 million suffer from illnesses caused by WASH issues. Maji Safi Group’s mission is to help these numbers drastically decrease in rural Tanzania. Would you join us in saving and improving the lives of these children?