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Global Sanitation Deserves to Be a Higher Priority

Issue needs better funding, more delineation from clean-water efforts, more help from health sector

FRIDAY, March 28 (HealthDay News) -- Some much-needed steps are finally being taken to improve sanitation worldwide, but more issues urgently need to be addressed while international leaders are focusing on the problem, according to an editorial in the March 29 issue of The Lancet.

This is the International Year of Sanitation, and improved sanitation -- simply put, segregating human waste from human contact -- could prevent 1.5 million diarrhea-related deaths annually, the editorial notes. Currently, 2.6 billion people lack access to a basic toilet, and in sub-Saharan Africa, the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without access to sanitation won't be met until 2072 at the present rate of progress.

To keep sanitation a focus beyond 2008, the health sector must become a stronger advocate for sanitation, rather than passing responsibility to water and sanitation authorities. Health officials should be lobbying governments and urging donors to help. In addition, water and sanitation need to be treated as two separate issues, with different providers of expertise and funding; yet these two sectors still need to work together. Also, funding should be increased to reflect the importance of sanitation to health. Ten billion dollars a year, for 20 years, would provide sanitation access to the entire world.

"Sanitation has languished at the bottom of the international agenda for far too long and the global health community has been complicit in letting it stay there. This unacceptable situation must change now," the authors conclude.


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