Today 36 prominent international health and development experts including representatives from WaterAid, The World Medical Association, the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Amref Health Africa, Bangladesh Medical Association, British Medical Association, Commonwealth Medical Association, Global Health Council, Indian Medical Association, International Confederation of Midwifes, Nigerian Medical Association, and the Royal College of General Practitioners amongst many others, have called for an end to a crisis that has claimed the lives of over 10 million children under the age of five since the year 2000.
In an Open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, the signatories, representing over 620,000 health professionals globally, highlight the desperate waste of life caused by people not having access to a basic toilet. Without basic sanitation, children have no choice but to live and play in areas contaminated by human waste.
One in three children globally does not have access to a basic toilet, which alongside unsafe drinking water and a lack of hygiene services, contributes to the world’s three main killers of children: undernutrition, pneumonia and diarrhoea, the letter states.
The letter, coordinated by the international development organisation WaterAid, has been published to coincide with World Toilet Day. It is also signed by IGHI’s Professor the Lord Darzi and highlights that the sanitation ‘crisis touches every moment of every child’s life, from birth to adulthood, if they are lucky enough to make it that far‘.
WaterAid Chief Executive, Barbara Frost, today said:
“10 million children’s lives have been lost since the millennium. This tragic waste of life just cannot continue. The dangers of poor sanitation and dirty water have been known for 150 years, yet still more than one in three children do not have a safe toilet to use which often leads to a lifetime legacy of disease and poverty”.
“These children need governments and international agencies to collectively step up and commit that by 2030 no home, hospital or school will be without a toilet and clean water.”
The letter coincides with a new briefing released by WaterAid: ‘Child of Mine’ which states that sanitation ‘remains one of the most neglected issues in developing countries and international development aid’. As the briefing highlights, this is despite a quarter of the 162 million children globally who have had their growth stunted and their physical and cognitive development impaired, because they suffered repeated bouts of diarrhoea when very young.
According to the World Health Organization, 88% of cases of diarrhoea are attributable to a lack of access to basic sanitation, unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene provision. In total, over 12 million children are estimated to have died because of diarrhoeal diseases from 2000 to 2013, with a lack of these services resulting in 10.6 million of these deaths.
The release of the letter to the UN Secretary-General and the publication of the briefing come at a crucial time, as governments work to complete the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that run from 2000 to 2015, and negotiate the new Sustainable Development Goals which will replace them.
The World Medical Association, an international organisation representing 111 national medical associations internationally and are one of the organisations to have signed the letter.
The World Medical Associations Chair, Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal said:
“It has been estimated that around half the hospital beds in the developing world are being used by patients suffering from diseases brought about because of the unsanitary conditions. Many of the physicians treating these patients are forced to do so in facilities that also lack clean water and sanitation and as such the means to practice good hygiene to reduce infections.
“While cutting edge science and medicine have made a remarkable contribution to our lives, ensuring the basics of an adequate toilet, clean water and could practice good hygiene would save hundreds of thousands of children’s from preventable deaths each year and improve the health and wellbeing of billions of people.”
The open letter includes the call for Ban-Ki Moon ‘to lead the world to a future of better health, dignity and prosperity for all by championing a dedicated goal to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030.’