Stephanie Ogden is a WASH/NTD Consultant for Emory’s Center for Global Safe Water, Children Without Worms, International Trachoma Initiative
2012 marks my tenth year celebrating World Water Day. I’ve worked in and with the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector since my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural El Salvador almost a decade ago. Since that time, I’ve worked with many organizations in Latin America, Africa and Central Asia helping to improve rural access to water and sanitation in order to promote health and encourage long-term development. I continue to work in the WASH sector, and this year, I have the opportunity to experience my tenth World Water Day from the point of view of an advocate for the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) sector.
This opportunity is the result of a new partnership between Emory University’s Center for Global Safe Water, Children Without Worms (CWW) and the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI). These three organizations have committed to a partnership that will encourage actionable dialogue and increased coordination between the NTD and WASH sectors. In my role as WASH/NTD consultant, my objective is to find ways to bridge the gap between these two sectors and identify opportunities for collaboration.
The London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases in January provided an important catalyst for dialogue. The Declaration solidified a global public-private partnership to eliminate or control 10 neglected tropical diseases by 2020. By calling for the development of sustainable control programs for these diseases, the NTD sector has effectively pledged commitment to work towards elimination or control of 10 NTDS.
But here is where the opportunity lies: while many NTDs can be treated with medications, the only way to sustain the benefits of control efforts for diseases such as soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH), schistosomiasis,and blinding trachoma is to ensure that communities in endemic areas have access to adequate sanitation and sufficient amounts of safe water to practice regular hand and face-washing. People in endemic areas also need to be schooled in good hygiene practices and behaviors that will break the cycle of re-infection.
Ensuring that communities have access to water, sanitation and hygiene to protect families’ health are fundamental tenets of both the WASH and NTD sectors. Opportunities for shared efforts between the sectors are many, and now more than ever is the time for the WASH and NTD sectors to make a joint commitment to achieve their common goals of improved health for all and overcome shared challenges.
My experience in the WASH sector has showed me firsthand the breadth of the positive impact created by improving WASH systems in communities: from encouraging children to go to school, to strengthening community economies, improving gender equity, promoting environmental sustainability and ensuring the health of the global community, including its most vulnerable members. Now, as I take on the challenge of strengthening partnerships between two sectors, both of which have a stake in these issues, I see more than ever that it will be essential for those in the WASH and NTD sectors to form long-term partnerships to achieve their common goals for health and development.