WASH

 {Photo credit: Cindy Shiner/MSH}A mother waits for the nurse to vaccinate her baby during an immunization clinic at Phebe Hospital in central Liberia.Photo credit: Cindy Shiner/MSH

Stronger health systems are critical to preventing outbreaks from becoming epidemics. In fragile states, systems already weakened by conflict, disaster, or instability can crumble under the weight of an outbreak -- devastating access, availability, and quality of basic health for women and their families.

{Photo credit: MSH staff, Afghanistan}Photo credit: MSH staff, Afghanistan

In 2013 diarrhea killed 578,000 children under the age of five, 9 percent of all deaths in this age group globally. The tragedy of these deaths is that they are avoidable at many levels. The risk of contracting diarrhea can be drastically decreased through basic hygiene measures, such as consistent and exclusive use of a latrine and washing one’s hands with soap. Once a child becomes ill with diarrhea, most cases can be managed with oral rehydration salts and zinc. But the gap between what is known in the public health community regarding prevention and treatment of diarrhea, and what is practiced in many settings, is wide and deadly.

In Afghanistan, diarrhea killed 13,000 children under the age of five in 2013 and was the third most frequent cause of mortality (after neonatal conditions and pneumonia) in the age group. Many organizations, including Management Sciences for Health (MSH), have worked to improve access to treatment for children with diarrhea, but less attention has been paid to prevention.

 {Photo credit: Alison Corbacio.}A child in Rajasthan, India drinks from a public water source.Photo credit: Alison Corbacio.

Have you ever thought about water? I mean, really thought about the quality of the water you drink or use for your personal hygiene? Clean water is something many of us take for granted, but billions of people around the world lack access to a dependable source of fresh water and acceptable sanitation facilities.

This year, I joined a coalition of advocates from dozens of organizations to support HR 2901, otherwise known as The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in August 2013 by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It has broad bipartisan support. This bill does not ask for any new funding from Congress; instead, it seeks to use existing funds to improve monitoring and evaluation of WASH projects, increase communication between agencies, and promote partnerships and cooperation among stakeholders.

Deborah Nyantiok is 56 years old and lives with her grandchildren in Kaya, near the border of Uganda. She lost her husband during Sudan’s 20-year civil war and now takes care of her grandchildren. In order to pay for food and school fees, Deborah operates a small business and keeps animals to generate income. Despite her hard work, in the past Deborah found life difficult as she and her grandchildren often fell ill.

Lacking a source of clean drinking water, residents of Kaya gather drinking water from the nearby Kaya River. While the river provides vital irrigation which makes the surrounding land lush and green, unfortunately it also carries dangerous viruses and bacteria. These pathogens cause many waterborne ailments like typhoid, diarrhea, and parasitic diseases. Deborah and her grandchildren often suffered from these diseases, and while they sought medical treatment, it always seemed only a matter of time until their suffering returned.

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