Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unacceptable...and totally preventable

The ladies of Tuesday afternoon’s Martha May Eliot forum on water and maternal and child health are putting a positive spin on toilet talk. In fact, they urge more conversation around sanitation and the magnitude of the public health risks associated with diarrhea.

The stats are quite staggering: 1.5 million children die every year of diarrhea and 88 percent of diarrheal deaths worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Still, according to each speaker, there’s real need to elevate the status of these issues as funding, public awareness and intervention on these fronts seem to have taken a backseat to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In an effort to raise the profile of diarrhea and its significant impact on child survival, UNICEF and the World Health Organization recently released a report in October on “Diarrhea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done?” The report provides a seven-point plan for stemming the unfortunate, preventable problem.

In many countries, the greatest sanitation challenges result from having to change social norms in order to advance healthier communities, and a big part of these efforts are in education and maintaining sensitivity to cultural norms. Another big challenge, according to presenter Therese Dooley of UNICEF, is the “issue around privacy and dignity for women and girls, which is why these issues don’t get addressed.”

One participant from Bangladesh noted that many schools in her region don’t even provide safe restrooms for students.

“We put our children in schools for six to eight hours a day,” Dooley said. “Shouldn’t we ensure it’s the safest and healthiest place it can be? We really need to stop the avoidance of talking about toileting.”

To find more on this issue, visit UNICEF.

— M.S.

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