Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: closing the gap to end neglected tropical diseases

29 March, 2021

On World Water Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its strategy on water, sanitation and hygiene as part of joint efforts by the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and the neglected tropical diseases (NTD) sectors towards ending these diseases over the next decade.

The ‘Global Strategy on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases – 2021-2030’ complements the recently launched road map for neglected tropical diseases and aligns with the Sustainable Development Goal targets 6.1 and 6.2 on drinking water and sanitation.

Without clean water and soap, it is difficult to implement simple and effective public health actions that can prevent and manage debilitating NTDs: face-washing for trachoma, a disease which leads to painful, irreversible blindness; limb-washing for lymphatic filariasis, in which worms invade the lymph system and cause severe oedema, especially of the legs; wound-washing for rabies, where cleaning the lesion thoroughly after a dog-bite can decrease the chances of infection by the virus from canine saliva; and hand-washing for intestinal worms, whose eggs are ingested with food inappropriately manipulated and contaminated with soil.

Large inequalities in access to WASH continue to persist: at least 2 billion people rely on water supplies that are unsafe; 673 million practice open defecation, and, an estimated 3 billion people have no access to basic handwashing facilities to practice personal hygiene.