July 7, 2008
International failure to tackle global child mortality
Lack of sanitation kills millions of children every year.
Credit: WaterAid / Kate Eshelby
Every year 9.7 million children die before reaching their fifth birthday. WaterAid's new report, Tackling the silent killer: The case for sanitation
asserts that improved sanitation could bring the single greatest reduction in these child deaths.
Read the report Tackling the silent killer (PDF 1002.57KB).
The report reveals that the current statistics on child mortalitymay be underestimating how many child deaths are attributable to poorsanitation. According to the report inadequate sanitation may be thebiggest killer of children under the age of five, yet no governmentsare prioritizing the issue. Instead, sanitation is the most neglectedof all the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) sectors.
It is plain to see both historically and medicallythat investing in hygiene and sanitation offers the greatest publichealth returns of any development intervention. Yet no-one ischampioning the cause, and this chronic neglect is holding up otherimportant areas of development.
The report, released at the G8 Hokkaido summit in Japan on July 7,2008, explores how the sanitation sector is being chronically andinstitutionally neglected by donors and developing country governmentsalike, resulting in as many as 2.4 million easily preventable childdeaths a year; double the number of people killed worldwide in roadtraffic accidents.
The Lancet's Senior Editor, Doctor Rhona MacDonald welcomes the report:
"WaterAid's report shows a scandalous neglect by the internationalcommunity. Investing time, attention and resources in sanitation hasthe potential to save millions of lives, especially those of children,but instead, by neglecting sanitation, children are needlessly dyingand almost all other areas of human health and development are hampered.
"We need this report to stir up public pressure and demand access toimproved sanitation for the 40% of the world's population - that's over2.5 billion people - who lack even the most basic sanitation. As ahealth professional I'm well aware of the importance of sanitation, andI'll be looking to the Hokkaido G8 summit to change the current trendof neglect by delivering, and committing to an action plan onsanitation for the world's poorest people."
Professor Sandy Cairncross, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine:
"WaterAid's report throws much needed light on a sector that islargely neglected. It is plain to see both historically and medicallythat investing in hygiene and sanitation offers the greatest publichealth returns of any development intervention. Yet no-one ischampioning the cause, and this chronic neglect is holding up otherimportant areas of development. At the London School of Hygiene andTropical Medicine we welcome this report and urgently call for moreresearch into the effects of poor sanitation."
The sanitation sector is in crisis, 40% of the world's populationlack access to even basic sanitation. In 2002, an MDG target to reduceby half the proportion of people without access to sanitation wasagreed by the UN for achievement by 2015. At the current rate of'progress' this global target will not be met, and in sub-SaharanAfrica it will not be reached until 2076, 61 years late. Average lifeexpectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is below 40.
The latest UNICEF report puts the two biggest killers of children asrespiratory diseases (1.8 million child deaths per year) and diarrhealdiseases (1.6 million child deaths per year). Malnutrition is alsostated as an underlying cause in five million deaths. WaterAid's reportdemonstrates the role of poor sanitation across these diseases. Furtherevidence explains how low-cost, simple improvements to nationalsanitation services could save up to 2.4 million children's lives eachyear.
Oliver Cumming, WaterAid policy officer:
"The international development community must respond to thedevelopment needs of the poor. How can governments overlook an issuethat contributes to the deaths of millions and millions of childrenevery year? The cold hard fact is that poor sanitation kills morechildren than HIV/Aids, malaria and measles combined, yet it remainsneglected. Most donor and aid-receiving governments don't even know howmuch they're spending on the sector.
"WaterAid is not calling for sanitation to be championed above or atthe cost of other areas of development, we are simply asking that thesector is met with a level of priority and investment proportionate tothe scale of the crisis.
"Investment in sanitation will bring massive gains to other areas ofdevelopment too; more girls in school, less money spent on treatingdiarrheal diseases, more resources in hospitals to deal with otherhealth issues. The list goes on… A failure to respond by the world'srichest nations as they gather in Japan this week would be scandalouslynegligent."
WaterAid looks to world leaders to commit to an internationaldevelopment program of action that responds to the scale of the childmortality crisis - not just the issues that are getting the most press,or have the most celebrity endorsements, but the issues that arekilling the most children and are most easily rectified.
Read our report, Tackling the silent killer (PDF 1002.57KB)
The report is also available in french, Lutter contre le tueur silencieux (PDF 1486.83KB)
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Notes to Editor:
WaterAid is an international charity. Our mission is to overcome poverty by enabling the world's poorest people to gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is Britain's national school of public health and a leading postgraduate institution in Europe for public health and tropical medicine.
The Lancet is one of the oldest and most respected medical journals of its kind, publishing the best medical science in the world with a zeal to counter the forces that undermine the values of medicine, be they political, social, or commercial. The Lancet is an independent and authoritative voice in global medicine with a commitment to international health ensuring that research and analysis from all regions of the world is widely covered.