A Great African Statesman and One of the Nicest People You Could Ever Meet

Exray Foto Sanjay 1Sanjay Wijesekera, Chief of WASH, UNICEF talks about H.E. John Kufuor’s visit to World Water Week in Stockholm

It is a great honour to be at World Water Week in Stockholm with HE John Kufuor, especially as he was President during my time in Ghana between 2005 and 2008.  Not only is he a great African statesman, but he is one of nicest people you could ever meet.  The President is Chair of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) and Special Envoy to the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, and these two initiatives have particular resonance at this, the world’s foremost annual gathering of water and sanitation experts.  The Global Network for NTDs seeks to bring attention to a group of diseases that continue to cause immense pain and suffering in developing countries, most of which can only be eliminated if there are improvements to sanitation and water.  And the Sanitation and Water for All partnership was created to increase the political will around making those improvements, and to help countries achieve better use of their resources.

This speaks strongly to the mission of UNICEF, and our dedication to protecting the rights of children and helping them to achieve their full potential.  Many of the neglected tropical diseases take a terrible toll on the lives of children.  Trachoma, for instance, causes blindness, and intestinal worms sap children’s strength, leaving them listless, poorly nourished and unable to learn at school.  It is estimated that almost half of the primary school-age children in developing counties carry intestinal worms – an incredible burden of ill-health and lost opportunity.  Better sanitation, safe water and good hygiene practices can help eliminate or control many neglected tropical diseases, and other equally serious health problems such as diarrhoeal disease.

H.E. Kufuor is challenging governments to make water, sanitation, hygiene and the elimination of the diseases they cause a top political priority.  The Sanitation and Water for All partnership will hold its third biennial meeting in 2014, and countries will report to each other on the progress they have made against the commitments they have previously made towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation.  I feel there is cause for optimism that these essential foundations to children’s health and well-being are gaining the highest attention, and that diseases such as trachoma and worms may soon be a part of history.

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