Water is Essential

Posted on by By Eric Mintz, CDC and Suzie Heitfield, CDC

border between Guinea and Liberia during the 2014 Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak across Guinea, northern Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria

Eric Mintz, CDC
Eric Mintz, CDC

World Water Day is an opportunity to evaluate the importance of improved sanitation and hygiene in the health of the world’s population. Access to basic hygiene and sanitation facilities helps people stay healthy and prevent the spread of disease.

Water and Ebola

The world is currently battling to stop the largest Ebola outbreak in history. This historic outbreak began in Guéckédou, a town in southeastern Guinea on the border of Sierra Leone and Liberia. A 2-year old boy fell ill with fever, vomiting, and diarrhea and died within a few days. The boy’s mother, sister and grandmother also became ill and died from this mysterious disease. One family’s misfortune started a chain of transmission of this devastating disease to the surrounding West African communities.

These early cases of Ebola occurred in a community that did not have adequate access to safe water, or basic sanitation and hygiene. In rural Worldwide, 748 million people do not have access to an improved source of drinking water and 2.5 billion people do not use an improved sanitation facility.areas of Guinea, like Guéckédou, 65% of the population has access to an improved drinking water source and only 11% are using improved sanitation facilities[1], including toilets and latrines. In many places, communities lack the capacity to effectively adapt their current systems for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to the community’s changing needs, such as population growth, or changes in water quality.

Patient zero and his family were treated at a small clinic that had no water for handwashing. While improved water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure alone might not have halted the spread of Ebola, it may have mitigated the reach of the outbreak.

Bringing CDC’s expertise to the Ebola Response

In Guinea, CDC is collaborating with other US government agencies and non-governmental organizations to share information about their activities in the WASH sector. They are providing WASH training materials for healthcare workers and have targeted communication efforts to educate the community and schools about handwashing and improved WASH practices. CDC and partners participate in weekly WASH meetings to coordinate the improvement of WASH conditions in healthcare facilities.

Clean hands can save your life

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal 7 is to reduce the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by half[2]. The countries that have been disproportionately affected by the Ebola outbreak have a long way to go to reach that goal. The Ebola outbreak provides us with an opportunity to focus on improving access to improved water, sanitation, and hygiene. Reaching this goal would not only fight Ebola in West Africa, but also prevent outbreaks of other diseases that are spread by contaminated water and inadequate access to improved sanitation and hygiene practices such as handwashing.

[1] Millennium Development Goals Indicators. http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Data.aspx

[2] We can end poverty: Millennium Development Goals and beyond 2015. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/

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Posted on by By Eric Mintz, CDC and Suzie Heitfield, CDCTags , , , ,

2 comments on “Water is Essential”

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    This is a world wide problem. People who prepare & serve food without washing their hands are putting Customers and fellow workers at risk.
    Helicobacter pylori-which is passed from cross contamination of fecal matter, was present in patients with chronic gastritis and gastric ulcers. It is also linked to the development of duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer. If people would only wash their hands with soap and water it would prevent the spread of this and other diseases.

    The statistics on the worldwide’s lack of clean water resources is unfortunate. It’s hard to believe that having access to basic hygiene and sanitation facilities can play such an enormous role in keeping people healthy and preventing the spread of disease. Like Ted said, if people would just simply wash their hands correctly, then so many different diseases and viruses could be prevented.

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Page last reviewed: May 11, 2021
Page last updated: May 11, 2021
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