Every 22nd of March we celebrate World Water Day, a time to reflect on the importance of a resource that, while taken for granted by some, remains scarce for a substantial portion of the global population. Even today, 74 million people will have their lives shortened due to diseases related to poor water sanitation and hygiene.  

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are frequently spread or worsened by inadequate local water conditions, and the potential benefits of implementing Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) measures haven’t received as much attention as they deserve. 

The reasons for supporting WASH actions are compelling. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.5 billion people still lack safe sanitation facilities. Reducing these figures is not only crucial to improve public health but also for promoting sustainable development worldwide. 

In the context of Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis (STH), a condition that affects one-fifth of the world’s population, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, South America and East Asia, WASH initiatives are particularly relevant. They tackle the transmission and reocurrence of the disease, which is brought on by several types of intestinal worms that infect through contact with contaminated soil. 

Implementing WASH measures 

Enhanced access to clean water enables proper hygiene practices, such as handwashing with soap after using the toilet and before handling food, both essential for interrupting the cycle of STH transmission. Moreover, the provision of safe sanitation facilities can prevent the contamination of soil with fecal matter, mitigating the risk of infection with soil-transmitted helminths. Improving both the quality and quantity of water in affected communities is essential in curbing the disease.   

Understanding and respecting cultural norms within the affected communities is crucial for the successful implementation of WASH initiatives. The challenges can be pronounced in some of the communities most affected by STH (or other NTDS), where deeply ingrained habits may make it difficult to implement some of these measures, which can result in longer times to achieve the desired outcomes. Education plays a pivotal role, but its effectiveness is diminished when it’s only available to a few.  

Governments must play a critical role in the effective implementation of WASH measures, focusing on education and providing clean water to the affected communities. Prioritizing educational campaigns that promote proper hygiene practices and behavioural change is essential, as is allocating funds to enhance water quality and distribution networks. By doing both, governments can significantly improve the health and well-being of their citizens. Ensuring equitable water access across all regions is crucial for addressing disparities and improving social justice.  

It’s an interdisciplinary and challenging task, but awareness of the critical importance of WASH measures is growing. Special occasions like today’s World Water Day provide us with an important opportunity to advocate for a greater commitment to WASH initiatives and to raise awareness about the critical importance of proper sanitation, access to clean water, and hygiene practices for the health and well-being of communities worldwide.