WHO launches first global guidelines on sanitation, health

Four years after India rolled out the ambitious Swachchh Bharat Mission (SBM), aiming to have a toilet in each household besides making the country open defecation free by next year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday initiated an almost similar move. It launched the first global guidelines on sanitation and health even as it pitched for higher investments and policy shifts to achieve the goal of universal sanitation coverage by 2032.

The new WHO Guidelines on Sanitation and Health summarize the evidence on the effectiveness of a range of sanitation interventions and provide a comprehensive framework for health-protecting sanitation, covering policy and governance measures, implementation of sanitation technologies, systems and behavioral interventions, risk-based management, and monitoring approaches.

Critically, the guidelines articulate the role of the health sector in maximizing the health impact of sanitation interventions.

The guidelines also identify gaps in the evidence base to guide future research efforts to improve the effectiveness of sanitation interventions.

Need for global guidelines on sanitation and health:

Worldwide, 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation (with almost half forced to defecate in the open). They are among the 4.5 billion without access to safely managed sanitation services – in other words, a toilet connected to a sewer or pit or a septic tank that treats human waste. Without proper access, millions of people the world over are deprived of the dignity, safety, and convenience of a decent toilet.

Sanitation is a fundamental foundation of human health and development and underpins the core mission of WHO and ministries of health worldwide. WHO’s Sanitation and Health Guidelines are essential to securing health and wellbeing for everyone, everywhere.

Poor sanitation is a major factor in the transmission of neglected tropical diseases. Billions of people live without access to even the most basic sanitation services.

WHO developed the new guidelines on sanitation and health because current sanitation programmes are not achieving anticipated health gains and there is a lack of authoritative health-based guidance on sanitation.

By adopting WHO’s new guidelines, countries can significantly reduce the diarrhoeal deaths due to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene. For every US $1 invested in sanitation, WHO estimates a nearly six-fold return as measured by lower health costs, increased productivity and fewer premature deaths.

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