Writing for PoliticsHome, Jim Dobbin MP calls for "greater action" to improve sanitation and clean water facilities in the developing world.
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome World Toilet Day, an annual event which takes place on the 19th of November to highlight the fact that many people in the developing world lack access to a clean and safe toilet. This situation is so concerning that one in three women risks shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they do not have a safe place to go to the toilet.
As Co-Chair of the All Party Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases I have spent many years working to raise awareness of the burden of preventable diseases in the developing world. Speaking as a former microbiologist one of the issues which concerns me most is access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities. I know very well the effect that improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) can have in reducing child mortality in the developing world.
Despite the progress which has seen diarrhoea-related child deaths decline from 12 million to 7 million in the past two decades, diarrhoeal disease remains the second largest killer of children worldwide and is the most common cause of all diseases. Today around 760,000 children die from diarrhoeal disease every year making it a significant obstacle to achieving Millennium Development Goal 4.
Aside from child deaths, diarrhoeal disease can have even more long-lasting effects. It can cause malnutrition which can be a huge contributing factor to stunted growth and can impact negatively on future cognitive development. These effects are intergenerational as they can prevent affected children from attending education and being economically active and can further limit their chances of raising healthy and productive families.
I have seen for myself the effects of diarrhoeal disease when I participated in UK parliamentary delegations to Kenya and Bangladesh. In spite of the excellent efforts of wonderful and committed medical staff, hygiene remains a significant problem. In conjunction with improving access to appropriate vaccines and medication, more must be done to support initiatives aimed at promoting hygienic practices like regular hand washing and exclusive breastfeeding. We should also ensure that where diarrhoeal disease does occur, it can be effectively treated with oral rehydration therapy (ORT), oral rehydration solution (ORS), zinc and other micronutrients alongside regular feeding.
The UK has always been a leader in international development policy and I want to make sure that we continue to provide investment, expertise and leadership on the issue of access to clean water and sanitation. Whilst great strides have been made in creating effective tools to combat diarrhoeal disease there is a real need for greater action and to build on our progress.
I welcome the commitment made by the Government in April 2012 to double the number of people that will be reached by WASH by 2015 and I call on the Government to work further with international partners such as PATH, WaterAid and Tearfund to prioritise these vital issues and to roll out the tools that have been developed.
Preventing and controlling diarrhoeal disease and improving access to clean, safe toilets can significantly transform the lives of many people across the world and help them to build healthy, prosperous communities to raise their children.
Jim Dobbin MP is Co-Chair of the APPG for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases