In March, Senegal hosted the ninth World Water Forum. The theme was ‘Water security for peace and development’, which is particularly important as we consider the positive impact that improved access to water and sanitation can have in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
The World Water Forum is the world’s largest water event. It hosts more than 3,000 projects, 5,000 contributors and 30,000 participants. I joined staff from Sightsavers’ teams in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea at the forum, where we spoke about our work and hosted a stand.
We also held a panel discussion on the collaboration between water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and health sectors to promote the elimination of NTDs. This session was held in collaboration with our partners from Senegal’s Ministry of Health, Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR) and the French Water Partnership. During the panel discussion, we spoke about the importance of integration between WASH and NTD sectors, and shared our recommendations.
The impact of WASH on NTDs
NTDs affect more than a billion people and can cause severe and lifelong impairment. Yet they can be prevented, treated and, in many cases, eliminated.
In communities where water is scarce, supplies are often reserved for drinking or farming, meaning hygiene and sanitation are sidelined. Poor hygiene is linked to people contracting and spreading bacterial and parasitic infections, including a number of NTDs. By collaborating with the WASH sector and improving access to clean water, good sanitation and hygiene, we can prevent and treat these diseases more effectively.
Examples of WASH and NTDs in action
During the forum, representatives from our partner organisations gave presentations on where WASH has been successfully integrated into their programme work.
Action Contre le Faim (ACF) shared their experience of collaboratively managing faecal sludge in Tombouctou, Mali. The project involved working with administrative authorities, the women’s movement and civil societies to strengthen local development initiatives. The progress from this project demonstrates that community engagement can lead to innovative actions for improved sanitation and collaboration between the public and private sectors, universities, communities and social change organisations. This collaboration led to an 82% increase in access to sanitation.
The NTD programme coordinator from the Senegalese Ministry of Health gave a presentation on integration, multisectoral collaboration and challenges. The discussion focused on the recent progress made in Senegal, explored the mechanisms that supported this, and identified the priorities and next steps to accelerate WASH integration. The presentation also described advances in collaboration between the WASH and NTD sectors, which have resulted in positive developments in planning, advocacy, implementation, data collection and monitoring. WASH and NTD sector expert committees have also met to establish broader sector discussions and develop joint work plans. Both of these factors have been particularly critical in maintaining progress.
For example, the Accelerate programme reaches some of the most disenfranchised communities in trachoma-endemic areas with WASH services and supports intensified hygiene-related behavioural change in seven countries, to help break the transmission of trachoma.
Four lessons from the forum
The implementation of the right to drinking water and sanitation needs to be prioritised in legislative frameworks. Actors across the development sector must work together to achieve this through inclusive strategies.
There must also be substantial commitments from governments on water investment that are sustainable, inclusive and climate-resilient, and are maintained on sub-regional, regional and international levels.
Sustainable and integrated management plans to preserve water resources and ecosystems must be adopted. This will ensure resilience in the future to climate change and demographic pressures.
Public financial resources need to be mobilised, as well as those of development partnerships, to invest in water and sanitation infrastructures. With this, budgeted roadmaps can be developed to improve WASH and NTD services.
New jobs also need to be created to carry this work forward, and these opportunities must be available to young people, particularly women.
Increased collaboration between the WASH and NTD sectors can have a positive impact on the prevalence and morbidities of NTDs. This will establish broader sector discussions and the development of actionable joint work plans that are critical to sustaining progress.
As stated by the NTD programme coordinator from Senegal’s Ministry of Health: “As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, cooperation from a multisectoral perspective and under the principles of unity and solidarity is not just a concept but a powerful tool.” This confirms the need to consolidate the link between the WASH and NTD sectors and strengthen the collaboration in order to fight NTDs. Joint sensitisation and promoting behaviour change have also been shown to be effective tactics during COVID-19.
Also, integrating data collection and introducing data exchanges will result in shared learnings and have beneficial results on the processes of monitoring and collection.
Salimata Bocoum is Sightsavers’ country director in Senegal.