October 23, 2023
By: Sarit Baum, Head of Partnerships and Communications, NALA
Over 1 billion people worldwide suffer from neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) associated with inadequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Including diseases like trachoma, schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminths (STH), NTDs disproportionately impact marginalized and impoverished communities, causing blindness, malnutrition, and anaemia. Requiring an enabling environment for prevention, WASH improvement is a priority in the elimination of these diseases, but costly capital investments limit their integration into NTD interventions. The 2021 UNICEF update on WASH in schools revealed that 256 million children, 46% of those without water in schools, lack access as a result of inoperable infrastructure. Circumventing the high initial investment in WASH infrastructure for NTD programs is the WASH on Wheels project, designed by NALA, an NGO specializing in the prevention of WASH-related NTDs, as a feasible and low-cost solution to enabling good WASH practices for children at risk of NTDs. Consisting of a technician-operated vehicle equipped with necessary tools, the WASH on Wheels team travels to schools in NTD-endemic areas, swiftly repairing broken WASH systems to create an environment that encourages and enables good personal hygiene and reduced risk of infection. Complementing the WASH on Wheels team, is a portable structure with a streamlined set of equipment for long-bed vehicles that can be easily replicated for global scale-up. Theoretical and practical training sessions are provided to government-selected WASH fellows with an accompanying manual with the aim of ensuring continued support and additional maintenance of WASH infrastructure in their area. Furthermore, active involvement and engagement of the community, who support the team with labor and materials, encourages local ownership and ensures sustainability. Finally, a cost-effectiveness assessment on the intervention, realized a return of 400 school days of water access, on average, for one child, for every one USD invested in the project. In turn reducing the risk of WASH-related diseases and their associated impacts. Innovative in its approach to improving WASH access as a means of NTD prevention, this solution addresses the absence of WASH in NTD interventions circumventing the usual high cost of setting up new infrastructure, addresses sustainability issues through improving local capacity, and provides a framework for scaling up with streamlined equipment and a protocol manual. In conclusion, through integrating this viable WASH intervention into NTD prevention programs, hygiene-associated diseases can be tackled in a cost-effective, feasible, replicable manner for accelerated NTD elimination.
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