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More to Swachh Bharat than building toilets?

Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, is typically seen as just an endeavour to place toilets in villages and encourage hand washing. While these things seem like simple measures to improve sanitation, the knock on effect of doing so could have far more wide ranging consequences.

Three of seven most common causes of disease and death in India are related to malnutrition, dietary risks and “WASH” (water sanitation and hygiene). All three of these are the direct consequences of poor sanitation practices.

Copyright: ggfoto / 123RF Stock Photo
A rural Indian toilet.

Acute diarrhoeal disease (ADD) is the most common cause of infectious disease outbreaks. It accounted for 312 of the 1,649 disease outbreaks reported till December 3, 2017, according to data from the Union Health Ministry.

Food poisoning was the second most common cause of infectious disease outbreak. It came close behind ADD with 242 outbreaks according to the same data. Combined, these two conditions form around a third of infectious disease cases alone.

One of the major aims of Swachh Bharat is to end the practice of open defecation. This is a key concern in India as diseases such as cholera spread very quickly in rural areas without adequate supplies of clean water.

This was the case with more than fifty people in the Polasara area of Odisha’s Ganjam district. A high prevalence of diarrhoea cases in a small amount of time alerted local authorities to the potential for cholera within the area.

It was theorised by analysts at the microbiology department of MKCG Medical College that the cholera cases occurred due to the consumption of contaminated water. The contamination of this water likely originated from an infected individual openly defecating. A single individual who is contaminated by a disease such as cholera holds the potential to infect the entire local population if they openly defecate near a water source.

If the goals of Swachh Bharat are achieved and sanitation improves significantly, health in India could improve significantly. One of the more deadly aspects of diarrhoeal disease — as well as various other infectious diseases associated with sanitation — is malnutrition and dehydration.

“Malnourished children are likely to be underweight, stunted and wasted, and are more vulnerable to infections. They are at higher risk of dying of childhood infections, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis,” said Sujatha Rao, former secretary, ministry of health and family welfare.

Improving child health could considerably increase the health prospects of the nation as malnutrition as a child opens the door for numerous problems as the child grows up.

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