• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Not investing in water, sanitation is risking another pandemic- expert

Not investing in water, sanitation is risking another pandemic- expert

Catarina de Albuquerque, CEO Sanitation and Water For All (SWA), a global advocacy group, has warned of the risk of another pandemic if investment in water and sanitation is neglected.

Albuquerque added that collective failure to invest in preventative measures means that when diseases appear they can rage out of control, destroying lives and triggering massive health crises that take decades to resolve.

“We can either allow this information to scare us, or we can use it to prepare us. And one urgent policy solution for preventing disease is universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene.”

Albuquerque advice is coming on the heels of the forthcoming Sanitation and Water for All partnership slated to take place between May 18 and 19, 2022.

“From 18-19 May, the Sanitation and Water for All partnership, together with UNICEF, will bring together government ministers of water, sanitation, health, climate and the economy, including Nigeria at a sector ministers’ meeting hosted by the government of Indonesia in Jakarta, Indonesia.

High on the list of priorities will be how to stop infectious disease, through investment in water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as through vigorous action on climate change.”

Read also: The many disincentives to investments in Nigeria

According to her, hygiene is perhaps the most obvious tool in the belt. Last year the World Economic Forum estimated that handwashing with soap and clean water lowered the risk of contracting COVID-19 by 36 percent.

However, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 3 in 10 people worldwide, and 2 in 3 people in the least developed countries, could not wash their hands at home. Additionally, 1 in 4 health care facilities currently lack basic water services, and 1 in 3 lacks hand hygiene stations at points of care.

Experts have warned that zoonotic diseases – spreading from animals to humans – comprise nearly 75 percent of emerging diseases. Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) lists an influenza pandemic and other high-threat viral diseases such as Ebola and dengue among the top ten biggest threats to public health.

The question of another global health crisis is not if, but when.

Yet despite the imminent threat, the 2021 Global Health Security Index estimates all 195 countries remain dangerously unprepared for future pandemics. Additionally, only 33 countries have emergency preparedness and response plans in place that include considerations for vulnerable populations.

Our collective failure to invest in preventative measures means that when diseases appear they can rage out of control, destroying lives and triggering massive health crises that take decades to resolve, she said.

“We can either allow this information to scare us, or we can use it to prepare us. And one urgent policy solution for preventing disease is universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene.”

Alarmingly, only 8 percent of wastewater in low-income countries undergoes treatment of any kind and experts estimate that over 80 percent of discharged wastewater worldwide is untreated. This can have a severe impact on human health, not only through antibiotic-resistant pathogens, but also through outbreaks of food, water, and vector-borne diseases.

For example, inadequate management of waste was one of the factors listed for Ebola transmission in West Africa, contributing to the deaths of thousands. The World Health Organisation has recommended water and sanitation improvements as a vital first line of defence.

However, our sanitation services are not just vital to stopping the spread of disease, but also to understanding its impact. As COVID-19 test shortages hamper reporting processes, faecal matter has provided a vital indicator of the pandemic’s spread. According to health professionals at the University of California, San Diego, wastewater analysis alerted researchers to about 85 percent of COVID-19 cases in university housing before they were diagnosed, helping them to stop further infection.