The poor state of hygiene in India

The World Health Organization estimates that 50 per cent of malnutrition is associated with repeated diarrhea or intestinal worm infections from unsafe water or poor sanitation or hygiene. This unhygienic environment is due to India’s historic neglect of public health services. The absence of an effective public health network in a densely populated country has resulted in an extraordinarily high disease burden.

Sanitation problem in India:

About 48 per cent of children in India is suffering from some degree of malnutrition. According to UNICEF, water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and respiratory infections are the number one cause of child deaths in India. Children weakened by frequent diarrhea episodes are more vulnerable to malnutrition and opportunistic infections such as pneumonia.

With 638 million people defecating in the open and 44 per cent mothers disposing of their children’s waste in the open, there is a very high risk of microbial contamination of water which causes diarrhea in children. Also, diarrhea and worm infection are two major health conditions that affect school children impacting their learning abilities.

Problem in India:

There are many organisations and public- private collaborations working to improve access to toilets, improving drainage facilities and creating awareness through educational campaigns on the importance of preventive tools such as hand washing.

Handwashing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrheal diseases and pneumonia. Poor wash causes diarrhea, which is the second biggest cause of death in children below five years of age. According to the Public Health Association, only 53 per cent of the population wash hands with soap after defecation, 38 per cent wash hands with soap before eating and only 30 per cent wash hands with soap before preparing food. Only 11 per cent of the Indian rural families dispose of child stools safely. 80 per cent children’s stools are left in the open or thrown into the garbage.

A number of innovative public health campaigns and programmes to improve health and hygiene have been implemented in India but more needs to be done. These include community-led public-private partnerships to improve access to toilets and awareness campaigns in schools and slums in both urban and rural sectors. There is an urgent need for more such campaigns all across India.