The Intersections of Poverty, Handwashing and Neglected Tropical Diseases

Sabha and her friends drink water and wash their hands from a village well in Ghorahuan Village, Bihar State, India

Today marks the global strategy to better integrate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services — including handwashing education and access to handwashing facilities — with other public health interventions to eliminate and eradicate NTDs by 2020. The strategy aims to provide evidence-based guidance on effective ways for WASH and NTDs groups to collaborate to meet common goals.

Improved WASH is one of five interventions recommended by the WHO roadmap for the fight against NTDs. Access to clean water, handwashing facilities, proper waste management and good hygiene practices are critical to preventing NTDs from spreading. This is especially important for trachoma, the worlds leading cause of preventable blindness of infectious origin.

Approximately 232 million people are at risk of trachoma, and it is estimated to be responsible for the visual impairment of about 1.8 million people. A bacterial infection of the eyelid, trachoma is a highly contagious disease that can cause blindness if left untreated. It is spread by the eye, nose or throat secretions of an infected individual. These secretions are commonly spread by hands — as well as flies and shared facial cloths or tissues. Washing and other hygiene measures are critical to the success of trachoma interventions.

WASH and NTDs are both significant challenges to global development. WHO estimates that 1.9 billion people across 149 countries are at risk of at least one NTD, with many people at risk of suffering more than one. Likewise, 2.4 billion of the world’s population lacks access to adequate sanitation, while 1 billion people practice open defecation and 663 million do not have access to improved sources of drinking water. Both impacting the most impoverished communities, there is a significant overlap in the communities where NTDs are endemic and in which WASH resources are limited.

Notably, the strategy calls on endemic countries and partners to, “include, where possible, WASH indicators to contribute to success on NTD targets, and NTD indicators to contribute to success on WASH targets within the national frameworks for reporting progress against SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].” NTD stakeholders have also recommended an NTD indicator to monitor progress on the SDGs. Because of the close links between poverty, the prevalence of parasitic diseases and access to WASH, measuring progress against NTDs provides insight into how effectively the global community is progressing towards ensuring equitable access to clean drinking water, improved sanitation and proper hygiene — and ultimately eradicating extreme poverty.

You can join the effort by asking your countrys representative to the United Nations to support and promote the inclusion of a global NTD indicator in the SDGs.

TAKE ACTION: Make NTDs count in the SDGs, send a message.