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Dangerous Contaminants

If you ever wanted to know how important it is to not only brush your teeth but that the quality of the water you brush your teeth with to be of high quality, consider this quote by Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General, World Health Organization: "Water and Sanitation is one of the primary drivers of public health. I often refer to it as "Health 101", which means that once we can secure access to clean water and to adequate sanitation facilities for all people, irrespective of the difference in their living conditions, a huge battle against all kinds of diseases will be won."

Here's a look at the major diseases fostered by use of unsafe water for personal hygiene:

  • Diarrhea: 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera); 90% are children under 5, mostly in developing countries; 88% of diarrhoeal disease is attributed to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and hygiene; Improved water supply reduces diarrhoea morbidity by 21%. Improved sanitation reduces diarrhoea morbidity by 37.5%; The simple act of washing hands at critical times can reduce the number of diarrhoeal cases by up to 35%; Additional improvement of drinking-water quality, such as point of use disinfection, would lead to a reduction of diarrhoea episodes of 45%.

  • Malaria: 1.2 million people die of malaria each year, 90% of which are children under 5; There are 396 million episodes of malaria every year, most of the disease burden is in Africa south of the Sahara; Intensified irrigation, dams and other water related projects contribute importantly to this disease burden; Better management of water resources reduces transmission of malaria and other vector-borne diseases.

  • Schistosomiasis: An estimated 160 million people are infected with schistosomiasis; The disease causes tens of thousands of deaths every year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa; It is strongly related to unsanitary excreta disposal and absence of nearby sources of safe water; Basic sanitation reduces the disease by up to 77%; Man-made reservoirs and poorly designed irrigation schemes are main drivers of schistosomiasis expansion and intensification.

  • Trachoma: 500 million people are at risk from trachoma; 146 million are threatened by blindness; 6 million people are visually impaired by trachoma; The disease is strongly related to lack of face washing, often due to absence of nearby sources of safe water; Improving access to safe water sources and better hygiene practices can reduce trachoma morbidity by 27%.

  • Fluorosis: Over 26 million people in China suffer from dental fluorosis due to elevated fluoride in their drinking water; In China, over 1 million cases of skeletal fluorosis are thought to be attributable to drinking-water; The principal mitigation strategies include exploitation of deep-seated water, use of river water, reservoir construction and defluoridation.

Clearly the use of unsafe waters in hygiene represents a major problem in the containment of disease. By keeping proper hygiene the population separates itself from disease. But when these waters are polluted, children and the elderly often are the first to suffer the ill effects.

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