Lets Talk Sh*t

By Samantha Austin, intern at the Global Network and a Program Assistant at the Water and Sanitation Program at the World Bank.

Everybody does it, but nobody likes to talk about it. You probably don’t want to read a blog post about it. In short, poo is taboo. Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and sanitation are both neglected issues in part because people don’t want to talk about them. Both can be ugly; the disfiguring effects of an enlarged scrotum from lymphatic filariasis and the dangers of open defecation make for equally unpleasant dinner conversation. But today, on World Toilet Day, take a minute to think about why you should give a crap about crap.

Gandhi once remarked that sanitation is more important than independence. This is a powerful statement coming from the leader of the Indian Independence movement.  But let’s take a look at the numbers: 2.5 billion people don’t have access to proper sanitation. Of these 2.5 billion, about half are defecating in the open.  Most illnesses are spread by fecal matter, and one gram of feces can contain up to 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs. This is probably information you didn’t want to have, but for children in the developing world, sanitation is an issue of life or death. Diarrheal disease kills five times as many children as HIV/AIDS. This results in the deaths of 1.8 children every year. That’s 5,000 children every day! Diarrheal disease stunts growth, delays education, and eventually affects a country’s economy and the well-being of the nation.

Lack of improved sanitation is also directly related to the spread of NTDs. Of the seven most common NTDs, only one is not directly related to inadequate sanitation. Improving sanitation can reinforce public health gains achieved by de-worming programs by reducing transmission and preventing re-infection. Basic sanitation has been shown to reduce rates of schistosomiasis by 77%. A recent study conducted by the Ministry of Health of Zambia showed that blinding trachoma was 28% more likely to occur in households without improved sanitation.

So what can you do to observe World Toilet Day this year? You can participate in World Toilet Organization’s website and check out activities planned all over the world.  Or, today, when you sit on the toilet, reflect on the fact that defecation is an inevitable human condition, but the diseases caused by lack of sanitation don’t have to be.

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