The shocking state of sanitation and hygiene in India

  • Jan 19 , 2017

Wherever humans gather, their waste also accumulates. Progress in sanitation and improved hygiene has greatly improved health, but many people still have no adequate means of disposing of their waste. This is a growing nuisance in heavily populated areas, carrying the risk of infectious diseases, particularly to vulnerable groups such as the very young, the elderly and people suffering from diseases that lower their resistance. Poorly controlled waste also means daily exposure to an unpleasant environment. Fecal contamination in rivers and other waters is not just a human risk: other species are affected, threatening the ecological balance of the environment.

The discharge of untreated waste and excreta into the environment affects human health by several routes:

  • By polluting drinking water
  • Entry into the food chain, for example via fruits, vegetables or fish and shellfish
  • Bathing, recreational and another contact with contaminated waters
  • By providing breeding sites for flies and insects that spread diseases.

Sanitation is the hygienic means of promoting health through prevention of human contact with the hazards of wastes as well as the treatment and proper disposal of sewage or waste water.

The effects of poor environmental sanitation are numerous and they include human diseases, poor overall human health and economic disadvantages as well as social disadvantages. 

Photo Courtesy: Archinect

The diseases that are associated with poor sanitation are correlated with poverty and infancy disease. Together, the diseases caused by or associated with poor sanitation make up approximately 10 per cent of the global diseases. In fact, people voted sanitation as the most important medical milestone since 1840.

Today, more than half of the population in Africa, Asia and Latin America have a disease that is contracted, caused by or associated with poor sanitation due to poor hygiene practices and the inadequate water sources that come with poor sanitation. In 2010, 2.6 billion people around the world did not have the means to access proper sanitation methods.

Some diseases, such as hookworm, are the direct result of poor sanitation. They may be contracted from contaminated soil, which is polluted by human feces in locales where no proper means of waste disposal exist.

Humans are infected with hookworm parasites, by direct contacts, such as walking barefoot, in soil that contains human feces.

Hookworm larvae exist in soil and penetrate human skin to make their way into the small intestine. Once in the intestine the worms grow to adult size and produce thousands of eggs, which are passed in stool to begin their life cycle anew.

A minor hookworm infection may have no symptoms but others are signalled by itching and rash. The illness often causes diarrhea or cramps but it can become dangerous for children, pregnant women, and those who are ill or malnourished. These people may develop anemia, protein deficiency, and retarded growth.

This largely tropical disease affects about one billion people—one in every six on earth.

Human excreta have been implicated in the transmission of many infectious diseases including cholera, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, and ascariasis.