- 300,000 children between the ages of 0-5 die of a preventable disease
- Lack of cleanliness and toilets has raised an alarm in India
- India aims to end preventable deaths by 2030
New Delhi: When the government of India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014, its stated aim was to improve sanitation and end the age old practice of open defecation. With a mission to redefine India’s cleanliness status, the current government is working hard towards a ‘Swachh Bharat’.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan aims to ensure health and sanitation, particularly for the poor #PresidentMukherjee
— President of India (@RashtrapatiBhvn) January 31, 2017
While the conversation about this project has so far been limited to these issues, there is another, more critical issue that is also being tackled by the Swachh campaign – Child and infant deaths due to diarrhoea.
According to government statistics, about 300,000 children between the ages of 0-5 die of a preventable disease like diarrhoea each year.
Just last year, 13 children died every hour due to diarrhoea, pushing the country’s Health Ministry to declare it as the most fatal health problem in India.
The irony is that diarrhoea is entirely preventable and treatable.
The link between Diarrhoea and Open Defecation
Diarrhoea has a direct link to the practice of open defecation, as it is primarily caused by pathogens from faeces that have not been disposed properly.
Lack of basic conditions such as access to safe and clean water, sanitation and hygiene has a direct and adverse impact on peoples’ health causing diarrhea and cholera. Microbiological contamination of drinking water is linked to subsequent diarrhea among children, Mamata Dash, Campaign Manager at WaterAid India.
According to a report in UNICEF, lack of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children followed by unhygienic water and sanitation practices, and poor standards of personal hygiene.
According to the World Health Organisation, repeated episodes of diarrhoea can lead to loss of nutrients, eventually causing weakness and dehydration. In India, this can prove fatal and is a huge cause of malnutrition. The 2016 Global Nutrition Report also points out critical reasons for prevalence of malnutrition some of which include contamination of water, open defecation and practicing unsafe sanitation.
In 2016, the government launched a fierce battle against diarrhoea called the ‘Intensified Diarrhoea C-ontrol Fortnight’ (IDCF)’. The one week initiative targeted households by spreading awareness and providing health facilities.
In addition, India also came out with the world’s cheapest Rotavirus vaccination, to combat the disease.
According to report in PTI, India has joined ‘Network for Improving Quality of Care for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health’ to end preventable deaths by 2030. Currently the UN network has 9 member countries including Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria.
While it is too early to discuss the success of these programs, simple measures like ending open defecation or even educating people about regularly washing their hands can have far reaching effects.
There is a direct and critical role of hand hygiene & cleanliness in reducing deaths due to diarrhoea and other infection related deaths and thereby curbing maternal, neo natal and child mortality, adds Mamata Dash.
Future repercussions of diarrhea caused due to open defecation
Lack of cleanliness and toilets has raised an alarm in India, where an increasing number of people have been victims to preventable deaths, which could have been avoided by simply maintaining hygienic living conditions.
Adequate and safe water, sanitation and hygiene contributes to preventing diseases like diarrhea and cholera and thereby arresting deaths caused due to these, adds Mamta Dash.
Focusing on the unfortunate situation of preventable deaths in India she said, “While there is a focus on curative health care, it is time that importance is given to stopping from these diseases to happen in the first place. Otherwise, precious lives will continue to be lost for reasons that can be easily avoided.”