World Health Assembly cholera resolution a vital next step towards prevention but promises must quickly turn to action

on
21 May 2018
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Health
Dr Tedros, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, with the WaterAid delegation at the World Health Assembly. WaterAid

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WaterAid today welcomed the adoption of a new resolution on cholera prevention and control in which governments and civil society pledge to work together on the eradication of cholera.

The resolution was passed at the 71st World Health Assembly, and marks a potential stepchange in the global fight against the deadly disease. But the international development organization WaterAid cautioned nations against complacency, warning the commitment must move immediately from the conference room into action or risk becoming an “empty promise” to the world’s poorest.

Cholera, an infectious diarrhoeal disease which can kill within hours if left untreated, currently affects at least 47 countries across the globe, resulting in an estimated 2.9 million cases and 95,000 deaths, and costing the global economy an estimated $2 billion per year in treatment, hospitalisation and related costs in lost productivity.

Relegated to the history books in high-income countries, cholera is a disease of inequality, leaving the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities worst affected. Proper and sustainable access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene stops the disease in its tracks. Yet 844 million people globally still lack access to clean water and 2.3 billion people do not have a decent toilet, creating the perfect environment for cholera to spread.

As of early May, the WHO reported at least 12 areas or countries in Sub-Saharan Africa had active cholera transmissions, including Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia. In Uganda, with a population of 39 million, 23.8 million are without access to clean water close to home, while 31.6 million are without access to a decent household toilet. In Nigeria, which recently announced a state of emergency in water and sanitation, one-third of the population do not have access to clean water close to home (59 million) while seven in 10 (123 million) do not have access to a decent household toilet. In Malawi, one in three people (5.6 million) do not have clean water close to home, and more than half the population (9.6 million) do not have access to a decent toilet.

The Government of Zambia and Haiti have proposed the resolution on cholera, which is being co-sponsored by an additional eight countries. Zambia is currently emerging from a severe outbreak of the disease which has affected over 5,000 people and claimed around 100 lives, after starting in the capital Lusaka in early October 2017. In this land-locked southern African nation, over a third of the population do not have access to clean water (6.3 million) while nearly three-quarters (11 million) do not have access to a decent toilet.

WaterAid Zambia has been working with government and other NGOs to respond to the crisis, providing hygiene promotion to some of the worst affected communities.

Rachael, 22 (pictured), a cholera survivor from Lusaka, Zambia, recalls:

“That night I was alone, my husband was working overnight at the construction site and I started feeling very sick. I had violent diarrhoea and vomiting and went to the toilet several times.

“By morning, my neighbors suspected it was cholera and rushed me straight to the cholera treatment center, at the Heroes Stadium. I was quarantined and started on treatment immediately. My baby was taken away and I felt terrible to be separated from my child. It was terrible in the treatment center, I heard so many cries of people mourning, I saw many people die and I thought I would also die.

“I feel bad that I fell ill. There is a lot of stigma in the community and I hear a lot of bad things but am happy because I know more about how to prevent it.”

Isabel Mukelabai, Head of Policy at WaterAid Zambia, says:

“I have seen, first hand, the impact of cholera on the people of Zambia; robbing families of their loved ones and people of their jobs and all because they do not have access to the basics of clean water, decent sanitation and hygiene. This is a global injustice that must end, so today we warmly welcome the adoption of the resolution on cholera prevention and control at the World Health Assembly.”

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive for WaterAid UK, says:

“The resolution on cholera prevention and control, today passed at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, signifies a vital next step in the fight against cholera globally. But while today is of course cause for celebration, this commitment must turn quickly to action or risk being an empty promise to the world’s poorest.

“The WHO and member states must now work towards establishing national cholera plans, which include all sectors, with targets against which progress towards eliminating the disease can be measured. Their first priority must be to bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to everyone, everywhere because these basics are essential in fighting cholera.

“The ending of cholera is just one reason for nations to redouble their efforts to meet Global Goal 6 – the commitment of world leaders to bring clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene to everyone everywhere by 2030 – which comes up for review in New York in July. Access to these basic human rights are not only essential in stamping out the scourge of cholera and other waterborne diseases they are vital in building healthy and prosperous communities. Simply put, without them, progress will not be made and communities will be trapped in a cycle of poverty and disease.”

The resolution on cholera prevention and control comes soon after the Global Task Force on Cholera (GTFCC) announced its Global Roadmap to reduce cholera deaths by 90 percent by 2030, in October last year. WaterAid is committed to supporting cholera-affected countries to end cholera by working in collaboration with the GTFCC to achieve the goals laid out by the roadmap.

ENDS

 

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Carolynne Wheeler, News Manager
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Notes to Editors:

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/uk, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • 844 million people in the world – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home.[1]

  • 2.3 billion people in the world – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]

  • Around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]

  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]

  • Just £24 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

  • To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database www.WASHwatch.org

 

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] washwatch.org

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage

[5] www.wateraid.org/uk