By Courtney McGuire
Courtney McGuire works with Children Without Worms and the International Trachoma Initiative, and is one of the authors of “WASH and the NTDs: A Manual for WASH Practitioners.”
Saturday, March 22 is World Water Day—an important occasion not just for the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, but for the neglected tropical disease (NTD) sector as well. Without WASH, we won’t be able to defeat NTDs such as soil-transmitted helminths, schistosomiasis, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, and Guinea worm. Now, efforts to better coordinate the work of both sectors have new support with resources such as the WASH/NTD toolkit now available on www.washntds.org.
The toolkit—which includes “WASH and the NTDs: A Manual for WASH Implementers,” an upcoming e-course, and the website www.washntds.org–is designed to give WASH practitioners essential knowledge about how their work impacts NTDs. With this knowledge, WASH organizations can better target their activities to communities where NTDs occur, as well as demonstrate the impact of WASH on disease outcomes to help mobilize greater investment in WASH.
There is a growing recognition within the NTD community that WASH must be a part of the planning and implementation process for NTD control efforts. With this toolkit, both the WASH and NTD sectors can explore new opportunities for cross-sectoral partnerships and coordination at the implementation level.
One example of successful WASH/NTD collaboration highlighted in the toolkit comes from Ethiopia, where ORBIS, an eye care organization, and WaterAid worked together to combat blinding trachoma. ORBIS recognized the need to work with WASH partners to implement the SAFE strategy to combat the blinding disease trachoma – which stands for Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial Cleanliness, and Environmental Improvement. In order to help implement the F and E components of the strategy, ORBIS reached out to WaterAid Ethiopia to implement WASH activities in Gama Gafa zone in 2007. A multi-year agreement to bring WASH services to targeted communities has resulted in WASH access increasing from around 4 percent to over 92 percent in target districts as well as reduced levels of infection with trachoma.
In addition to featuring helpful case studies of WASH/NTD collaboration such as this, the toolkit provides techniques and practical materials useful for coordinating on joint monitoring, advocacy, and implementation. Over 50 country-specific versions of the manual are available, allowing users to access maps and specific information about the NTDs that occur in their countries of practice.
The toolkit itself represents an extensive collaborative effort between the WASH and NTD sectors. In December 2012, a diverse group of academics, practitioners, advocates, researchers, and organizations from both sectors came together for a two-day WASH/NTD roundtable discussion at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The discussion led to the production of a framework that would guide the toolkit’s development, which was undertaken by the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI) and Children Without Worms (CWW), and funded by the Sightsavers Innovation Fund with support from the UK government. Numerous organizations from both the WASH and NTD sectors contributed content and feedback to the effort.
On this World Water Day, we invite you to visit www.washntds.org, and to contribute to the conversation by tweeting your stories of collaboration @WASH_NTDs. Together we can work towards a world where clean, safe water is abundant for drinking and hygiene, where sanitation services are available for everyone—a world where no one suffers from NTDs.