IMA World Health’s projects highlight the role of water, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH, interventions in promoting health and well-being.
Billions of people, most of whom live in developing countries, lack access to clean, safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities, and the health consequences are dire. The two leading causes of death globally for children under 5 years of age—diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infections—along with other health problems like childhood stunting are linked to poor WASH practices. Contaminated drinking water and poor household hygiene behaviors sicken millions of children and adults, contributing to debilitating illnesses and premature mortality. The economic impacts are also significant. Children, girls especially, may miss school because they lack private sanitation facilities or must fetch water for their families. Adults miss cultivating food for their families because they are sick.
IMA has integrated WASH interventions into broader primary health care delivery and health systems strengthening projects for over a decade. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, WASH interventions are a critical component of the Access to Primary Health Care project, which aims to increase access to basic health care to a population of 8.9 million people. Focusing its WASH work primarily on building and/or improving the water and sanitation infrastructure at health centers, IMA has provided more than 300,000 people with access to safe drinking water and nearly 250,000 with adequate sanitation.
In Haiti, IMA targets healthy WASH behaviors at schools, ensuring students have access to clean drinking water, adequate latrines, handwashing stations and education on the importance of handwashing and other healthy WASH practices. Through these simple but powerful measures, school officials have noted that absences due to illness have declined. Our WASH work supports our larger efforts in Haiti to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases, which disproportionately affect those who lack access to clean water and sanitation. These, plus healthy hygiene practices like proper hand washing, can prevent the spread of some NTDs like soil transmitted helminthes or intestinal worms.
Each of our WASH-related projects includes a strong education component to build the capacity and buy-in of local health workers and officials to maintain and repair WASH infrastructure, as well as training on the importance of handwashing with soap and other critical hygiene behaviors.
Access to Primary Health Care (ASSP): In the rural areas of the DRC where ASSP supports primary health care, estimates suggest that only 32 percent of the population has access to potable water and just 17 percent benefit from suitable water and sanitation devices. In alignment with the DRC National Framework of Clean Schools and Villages Program, IMA is committed to sustainably promoting better hygiene and sanitation practices and increasing clean drinking water availability in assisted communities. With funding from the U.K.’s Department for International Development, ASSP has increased access to and use of potable water and hygienic sanitation by constructing water infrastructures, such as community rainwater collection cisterns at health centers, new protected water points and wells with solar water pumps. ASSP has also distributed toilet tiles for latrine construction to improve access to sanitary elimination.
Healthy Schools, Successful Children: With funding from Episcopal Relief & Development, IMA worked to improve students’ health, school participation and academic success through WASH interventions in the South, Southeast and Grand Anse departments of Haiti. Here, 74.5 percent of schools lack running water for sanitation, and 84 percent lack treated drinking water. Fewer than 60 percent of schools have functional toilets or latrines. In alignment with the Ministry of Education’s hygiene-friendly school model, the project was designed to improve WASH infrastructure in 60 schools; improve WASH behavior among students, teachers and communities; and institutional frameworks for sustaining interventions among schools and other local stakeholders.