The southern African country of Zambia boasts a population of just 12 million people. But every year we bear a phenomenal loss of life due to a preventable cause – diarrhea. The annual death toll of children under five from diarrhea in my country is a staggering 14,000.
The reason: lack of political will to give priority to diarrhea and its environmental causes, such as lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation.
Mother of 12 Christina Pede (left) from Chipongwe village in Kafue District knows the importance of clean water and adequate sanitation in preventing diarrheal diseases. In Christina’s words:
“This handpump is a great improvement on what we had before. Previously, when we used to drink water from the dam we used to get diarrhea. These health problems have stopped now.”
In Zambia, the need to prioritize diarrhea is stark: more than 80% of cases seen in clinics are diseases related to poor environmental sanitation. Yet, the report Fatal neglect: How health systems are failing to comprehensively address child mortality, released by WaterAid this week, shows that environmental health interventions that could prevent diarrheal diseases are given little priority in health budgets in Zambia from the national government and donors alike.
Along with water, sanitation and hygiene education (measures provided by WaterAid across Africa, Asia and the Pacific region), oral rehydration therapy, zinc tablets, rotavirus vaccinations and breastfeeding all help to stop child deaths from diarrhea. The global health organization PATH brings attention to the importance of all of these interventions in their new report, Diarrheal Disease: Solutions to Defeat a Global Killer. WaterAid has joined PATH and over 80 other organizations in a call to action that unites diverse organizations in demanding investment in all of these vital prevention and treatment interventions.
Until prevention and treatment of diarrhea is adequately funded, children will continue to needlessly die, despite the best efforts of their mothers, such as Stella Musanda (right) from the village of Jeremiah in Kafue District, who reports giving her toddler son Joseph the least amount of water he needs to stave off dehydration so as to minimize the chance of him contracting a fatal diarrheal disease.
-Nancy C. Bwalya-Mukumbuta, Program Manager at WaterAid in Zambia
Photos by WaterAid/Jon Spaull