By Dr. Neeraj Mistry, Managing Director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases
This post is part of a series created in partnership by WASH Advocates and Women Deliver. For more information, please contact Cecilia Snyder csnyder@WASHadvocates.org and Janna Oberdorf firstname.lastname@example.org
To remind ourselves why it is so vitally important to make improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), all we need to do is take a look at what’s in the dirty water. Lurking in infested water sources are parasitic worms that cause diseases such as human hookworm and schistosomiasis. These infections spread easily in communities that don’t have access to clean water or sanitation facilities.
Hookworm, schistosomiasis and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) infect more than 1 billion people around the world.
For women and children, NTDs are especially concerning. They are more likely to come into contact with NTDs while doing basic chores, like laundry or collecting water, bathing, or even just playing outside.
The effects of constant infection and re-infection can be devastating. For the estimated 40 million women of reproductive age infected with hookworm, the infection can cause serious health risks during pregnancy, including anemia. During childbirth, these women have a higher likelihood of experiencing complications and even death. Approximately 19 million girls and women are infected with a strain of schistosomiasis that makes them three to four times more likely to contract HIV.
That’s not all. Several NTDs can cause malnutrition and stunt a child’s physical growth throughout their childhood. They can also reduce a child’s ability to attend and perform well in school.
Luckily, the effects of these diseases can be controlled with simple medical interventions – most of which are donated by pharmaceutical companies; but, WASH improvements are what will make these treatment programs sustainable over the long term.
If we want to markedly improve maternal and child health and allow girls to learn and grow to their fullest potential, we must address NTDs. WASH improvements can help control and protect people from many NTDs. By combining these improvements with regular treatment programs, we can see the end of these diseases as early as the end of this decade.