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  • Written by Franck Flachenberg

Dignity, equality, violence, death and toilets


The woman on the right is the proud caretaker of a Liberian public sanitation facility with separated toilets and showers for men and women. In a country where up to 77 percent of women say they have been the victim of sexual violence, it is important to minimize the risk of assault. Photo: EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie.

Picture the scene: you urgently need to go to the loo. You look around for the nearest toilet and realise with a sinking heart there is no facility around. Where do you go? What do you do?

How would you feel if you had to go to the toilet out in the open every single day? No privacy, no dignity and nowhere to wash your hands afterwards. Do you feel disgusted? Of course you do. No one should have to live like this.

But this is the stark reality for some 2.5 billion people in the world who do not have access to proper sanitation, including latrines. Almost one-seventh of the world’s population live in urban slums where a lack of access to safe toilets and adequate sanitation is most acute.

Today is World Toilet Day. It’s time to stop being embarrassed about poo and to talk dirty.

It is common knowledge for us that without toilets, human waste can impact an entire community. Open defecation poses serious health risks, particularly to children. Every 20 seconds, a child dies from diarrhoea. More children die from diarrhoea-related disease than from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined. This horrendous situation could be remedied by ensuring that everyone has access to improved sanitation and hygiene facilities, including supplies of clean water.

  • Written by World and Media

Unreported cuts: 17,000 fewer children under five to die tomorrow

Soraya gets a check up at the local medical health clinic in Parwan Province, Afghanistan. The clinic is funded by the World Bank's Strengthening Health Activities for Rural Poor Project (SHARP). The drops in global child mortality rates since 1990 equate to over 6 million fewer child deaths in 2012. In Afghanistan, it equates to 80,000 fewer deaths last year. Photo: Graham Crouch / World Bank.Since 1990, the proportion of children under five that die each year has nearly halved. According to a recent report from the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation*, it has dropped by over 50% in all regions except for sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania.

The figures are immense. Despite population growth the number of under-five deaths worldwide has declined from approximately 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million last year. This progress made over 22 years translated to around 17,000 fewer small children dying per day in 2012. Yet, every single day, 18,000 children under age five did die.

These daily totals of deaths – either averted or that could have been averted had there been greater political will – dwarf almost all the suicide bombs, atrocities, accidents, negligence, shootings and abuses that filled the news in the more than two decades since 1990. The 6.6 million that died in 2012 were almost invisible. Programs such as this partnership that cut childbirth deaths in a Sudanese hospital in half are barely reported.

To put these figures in perspective, one could look at mortality rates in conflict-affected countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq the under-five mortality rate still dropped from approximately 45 to 34 per 1000 live births between 2000 and 2012. Last year, there were about 35,000 under-5 deaths but some 11,000 child deaths may have been averted relative to the mortality rate in 2000 and tens of thousands averted over the whole period.

  • Written by Niamh Griffin

Eradication of river blindness in Africa now possible - Sightsavers

Community volunteers in Kaduna State, Nigeria distribute the annual dose of Mectizan® to locals to prevent river blindness. Photo: ©Kate Holt/Sightsavers.River blindness in African countries can be eradicated within ten years according to an international charity working with the disease.

Simon Bush from Sightsavers spoke in Dublin in May to launch a new campaign against the disease, and said it is realistic to speak about eradication now that pharmaceutical companies like MSD are involved. Donations of expensive drugs have allowed NGOs and local health workers to target diseases more effectively than before.

According to Sightsavers around 37 million people are currently infected with river blindness including roughly 300,000 who are already irreversibly blind. Up to 140 million people in Africa are at risk of infection.

Speaking after the event, Mr Bush, director of Neglected Tropical Diseases, said: ‘The best option we have is this donated drug. MSD started the first donation programme, and it’s in its 26th year now.

“The pharma companies are donating the drugs. That is giving us a challenge as NGOs to say we have to get that drug to everyone who needs it.”

Along with Pfziers, MSD have focused their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme on donating drugs to fight Neglected Tropical Diseases. The WHO agree eradiction of these diseases is possible, and have run campaigns in Ghana and other parts of sub-saharan Africa.

Mr Bush said river blindness is easily treated, but the problem is funds and distribution.

  • Written by Niamh Griffin

Sudan-Ireland hospital partnership cuts childbirth deaths in half

Uganda's Mulago Hospital works with Ireland through a partnership with the College of Surgeons Eastern Central and Southern Africa. Photo: Daudi Ssebaggala.In a hospital where waiting lines of patients arrive before eight am, a small computer room is an oasis for surgical interns. Funded by Irish Aid and developed as part of a programme with the Royal College of Surgeons, the room is a small step towards having more surgeons in Uganda.

Interns in Ugandan hospitals typically do far more practical work than study. This room is part of a programme linking the interns online with classes and lecturers to right that balance.

Thick blue curtains on the door block out the noise, and give the interns a chance to get together in peace. And in a city where steady internet coverage is still far off, the coverage in here allows them to read and interact online with their peers.

Mulago Hospital, a key referral hospital for the country of over 30 million, works with Ireland through a partnership with the College of Surgeons Eastern Central and Southern Africa.

Another partnership, between Cork University Hospital and the Omdurman Maternity Hospital in Sudan "is associated with an 86 per cent reduction in maternal mortality and a 50 percent drop in stillbirths and early neonatal deaths," according to the Irish Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello.

These and projects are set to receive a boost through Ireland’s new membership of an international health alliance, ESTHER. According to Irish Aid, both projects are now under its umbrella and other projects are expected to apply to the programme this year.

  • Written by Rommel Caringal

Every 20 seconds, a child dies from diarrhoea.

Paying for water. Local residents in Ada, Ghana gather to collect water from a nearby community well. More than 2.4 million people die every year from diarrhea and other water-related illnesses because they don’t have safe, sustainable water and sanitation. This crisis persists, in part, because the financial services that could help vulnerable populations pay for water and sanitation remain largely unavailable to the poor. Photo: Gates Foundation.Despite water being fundamental to our existence, many people around the world still lack access to clean water. The enormity of the problem is underscored by its inclusion in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) which challenges the global community to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

According to Professor Ben Braga, President of the World Water Council, 780 million people still live without safe drinking water and many more without proper sanitation. In an interview with UN Water, he said that Council’s priority was to “universalise the access to safe drinking water and sanitation and to incorporate the idea of water as an engine for social and economic growth.”

Similarly UN Water states that a coherent, coordinated approach is clearly required as water issues represent some of the most urgent development challenges of our time. It underscores the importance of managing freshwater sustainably so that there is enough for everyone to drink and be healthy, so that agricultural producers can provide plentiful harvests and industry can meet its requirements. It is not only a question of meeting our current needs, but with the challenges posed by climate change we will have to adapt and be prepared for increasing numbers and severity of water-related disasters.

According to Braga: “the issue of water and disasters has never received any attention from the UN system in developing the MDGs. The same for building resilience against climate change. We all know that the main impacts of climate change are going to be felt in the water sector.”

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