22 Aug 2011

WASH for Mothers: Water, Sanitation and Maternal Health: Inter-dependent Systems Challenges

Aug 22, 2011 10:04 am

The following post is part of a series of posts, WASH for Mothers, exploring water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and maternal health. It is written by Margaret Catley-Carlson who is currently Chair of the Board of the Crop Diversity Trust, and the Foresight Advisory Committee for Group Suez Environment. She is a patron of the Global Water Partnership, a member of the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board, World Economic Forum Global Advisory Council on Water, the Rosenberg Forum, and serves on the boards of the Syngenta Foundation, IFDC (Fertilizer Management), the World Food Prize And Tyler prize. 

All of us working to break the cycle of poverty that holds hostage too many people in the world are tracking closely the progress of the Millennium Development Goals which are set for review in 2015. The eight MDGs cover the gamut of issues that keep that cycle of poverty spinning, and they are inextricably linked. Goals 5(a) and 7(c) are perfect examples. The former aims to 'reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio, and the latter aims to "halve... the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation."

Experts agree: access to clean water and sanitation is essential for healthy pregnancies and childbirth. Vitamin deficiencies, trachoma and hepatitis can be caused by unsanitary conditions and poor hygiene. Anemia, one of the 5 major causes of maternal death and disability, is most often associated with malnutrition, but it can also be caused by intestinal worms or malaria both of which occur when clean water and safe sanitation are lacking.

Fifteen percent of all maternal deaths are caused by infections in the 6 weeks after childbirth mainly due to unhygienic conditions during home deliveries and in institutions. Another of the 5 major causes of maternal death and disability, sepsis, is caused when clean water and adequate sanitation are not available to a woman during labor and childbirth.

Environmental stability and maternal health are both systems issues. Clean water and sanitation are essential factors in our collective efforts to eradicate preventable maternal mortality and morbidities. The logic here is clear: If humanity is to break the poverty cycle once and for all, we must address concomitantly the fundamentals that weaken the systems needed to provide and sustain good health.

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