Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Water and Sanitation: Keys to Staying Healthy

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HealthWiki > New Where There Is No Doctor > Water and Sanitation: Keys to Staying Healthy


In this chapter:

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, see Illnesses from Mosquitoes (in development).

How diarrhea disease is spread

Germs and worms cause disease by traveling these paths from human or animal waste.

 arrows showing path of germs from feces to mouth
fingers
flies
fields
feces
food
mouth
fluids

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.

 Illustration of the below: dog standing in water
 Illustration of the below: child touching dog
Illustration of the below: mother squatting next to child
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.
Illustration of the below: hand preparing flatbread
Illustration of the below: man, woman and two children looking ill
4. The busy mother prepares dinner. She uses her soiled skirt, to keep from burning her hands.
5. The family eats the food. Soon everyone has diarrhea.

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
long-lasting, improvements to people’s cleanliness and water should:

  • be simple and affordable — they should fit local people’s needs and abilities, and be easy
    to maintain.
  • be culturally acceptable — they should fit local customs, beliefs, and desires.
  • work for everyone — they should address the health needs of children, people with disabilities, women and men, and the elderly.


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