Effect on Health

How does a toilet help health?

In some countries lack of sanitation can be viewed as a weapon of mass destruction. The United Nations explains that, “a child dies every 20 seconds because of poor sanitation. They are dying from diseases linked to inadequate facilities, unhygienic living conditions and a lack of clean water supplies.” Using proper toilets and hand washing helps to prevent the transfer of fecal particles from contaminating people’s environment and resources. Contamination is a major cause of diarrhea,  the second biggest killer of children in developing countries, and leads to other major diseases. A study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2010 reported the improvement of water, sanitation and hygiene can prevent 9.1% of the WASH-related disease burden, or 6.3% of deaths.

Many of these diseases are waterborne diseases. The CDC describes that Waterborne diseases “are caused by pathogenic microbes that can be directly spread through contaminated water.” Most waterborne diseases cause diarrheal illness. Other waterborne diseases do not cause diarrhea; instead these diseases can cause “malnutrition, skin infections, and organ damage” (CDC).

Classification of wash diseases:

Waterborne: the pathogen is in water that is ingested
Water-Washed: Person to person transmission because of lack of water for hygiene
Water-Based: Transmission through an aquatic host
Water-Related Insect Vector: Transmission by insects that breed in water or bite near water

The disease burden caused by poor water and hygiene is significant. Lack of toilets is connected to numerous life threatening diseases.

Main Diseases Linked to Unimproved Hygiene

Little child squezzing a plastic cup full of a yellow fluid

Photo from Flickr

“Sanitation is a cornerstone of public health” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO’s Director-General. “Improved sanitation contributes enormously to human health and well being. We know that simple, achievable interventions reduce the risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease by a third. Sanitation matters because a toilet at home spares a family from illness, health care expenses, and time lost from work and school.”

Toilets and latrines allow people to dispose of their waste appropriately, which breaks the infectious cycle of many diseases. Improving access to sanitation is a critical step towards reducing the impact of these diseases.