Hesperian Health Guides
Water and Sanitation: Keys to Staying Healthy
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Many of the problems that make us sick can be easily prevented. Some ways of preventing illness take extra time, effort, and money in the beginning, but they save time and money in the long run by avoiding illnesses.
This chapter explains how to prevent diarrhea and other sicknesses caused by germs in human and animal waste (feces). Most belly and gut problems can be avoided by washing hands, using clean
methods of preparing and storing food, using toilets, and drinking water that is safe to drink.
To learn how to prevent:
- malnutrition, diabetes, heart disease, and other problems caused by poor nutrition, see Good Food Makes Good Health.
- pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other breathing problems, see Problems with Breathing and Coughing (in development).
- health problems caused by garbage and other solid waste, see Garbage, Medical Waste, and Pollution (in development).
- malaria, dengue, and other diseases spread by mosquitoes.
How diarrhea disease is spread
Germs and worms cause disease by traveling these paths from human or animal waste.
Germs also spread from one person to another. Since family members are in close contact with each other, germs and illness can spread easily to the whole family.
1. Heavy rains cause an open sewer to flood. A dog walks through the streets and gets feces on its feet.
2. The dog goes into a house and a child plays with it. The child gets feces on his hands.
3. Later the child cries and his mother comforts him. He holds onto her skirt making it dirty.
What could have prevented the family’s illness?
If any of these was true, the spread of illness could have been prevented:
- If the community did not have open sewers
- If the dog had not been allowed to come inside the house
- If the family helped the child wash his hands
- If the child had not wiped his hands on his mother’s skirt
To the health worker
Promoting cleanliness and improving water are some of the best ways health workers can make their communities healthier. But when too many things need doing or changing, it can be overwhelming. Encourage people in your community to do the things they are already doing that keep them healthy, and find one or two important things to work on. To be successful and