World Water Day offers us an opportunity think about some of the challenges facing those of us working in the field of infectious diseases and how working alongside those in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector could improve impacts across the board.
The critical link between water and sanitation and the spread of disease was discovered long ago. In the summer of 1854, after Dr John Snow recognised the link to a dangerous outbreak of cholera, the handle of the Broad Street pump in Soho was removed to prevent locals from drinking its contaminated water. His actions no doubt protected many people from future outbreaks.
Now, 160 years on, the interaction between WASH and health efforts in the control of infectious diseases is still as important. This is particularly the case in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) given that WASH plays a role in the spread of over half of them.
It has, however, been difficult to move from talking about the links to taking action and figuring out how people are going to work together in practice in order to fully address the WASH factors that contribute to the transmission of NTDs.
Although there are proven treatments for current infections of many of the NTDs, there is an awareness that in highly endemic areas, successfully addressing these diseases is not possible or sustainable without improvement to the WASH-related factors that contribute to their spread.
The need for a joint approach has been clear and well agreed – the challenge has been how to make it a reality and ensure people collaborate to eliminate these diseases.