Vulnerable communities face significant challenges to their health and ability to access affordable medicine and basic health care. Poor health, hygiene, sanitation and access to safe drinking water can significantly affect all aspects of life. It can adversely impact an individual’s ability to thrive, get an education, earn an income and to live with dignity.
Around half of the world’s population does not have access to essential health services due to costs and inequity of health care access, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities (WHO). These conditions lead to millions of preventable deaths and illnesses every year.
Health has now become an even more pressing issue worldwide, with more than 100 million cases of COVID-19 globally. It has demonstrated the vulnerability of all communities and the importance of good health practices.
people do not have safely managed sanitation services.
people lack basic handwashing facilities.
cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed globally.
Effects of poor health
Health and access to affordable health care have a direct affect on all aspects of a person’s life. In vulnerable, marginalised communities, where living conditions are already challenging, this can result in:
What causes poor health?
Malnutrition can be caused by a lack of food security or unsustainable food production.
Lack of proper health care infrastructure or insufficient health care professionals.
Poor sanitation and hygiene facilities and lack of awareness.
Environmental change, natural disasters, and the absence of effective risk management systems.
What is WASH?
WASH is an acronym that stands for ‘water, sanitation, hygiene’. Universal, affordable and sustainable access to WASH is a key public health issue within international development.
"Access to WASH" includes safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene education. Improving access to WASH services can improve health, life expectancy, student learning, gender equality and other important issues of international development. This can reduce illness and death, and also affect poverty reducton and socio-economic development.
Challenges include providing services to urban slums, improper management of water distribution systems, failures of WASH systems over time, providing equitable access to drinking water supply and gender issues.
Health and WASH
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is at the core of maintaining good health and accessible healthcare in vulnerable and marginalised communities. Access to clean and safe water can be a preventative as well as corrective measure for communities that are prone to natural disasters or disease outbreaks.
Unsafe water, and poor sanitation and hygiene result in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people annually, particularly because of diarrhoeal disease.
For example, access to a safe water source can help prevent the spread of waterborne diseases. Moreover, healthcare professionals and clinics with adequate sanitation facilities are better equipped to treat patients and stop the disease from spreading further.
Similarly, a community with robust and sustainable WASH infrastructure is more likely to recover quickly from a cyclone because of the availability of clean water.
What are we doing to improve health around the world?
Our international development programs recognise that good health is essential to a community’s socioeconomic progress and the wellbeing of its people. We work closely with communities in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific Islands and Australia to drive positive change in the lives of their people.
We work with our local partners on the ground, through training, awareness-building and long-term programs to support local communities to thrive.
When the Ebola virus struck the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) our WASH programs helped to raise awareness of ways to prevent its spread, supporting communities to improve hygiene and sanitation facilities and practices. Now this support is helping the country’s people manage the spread of COVID-19 within their communities.
In Australia, our work with organisational partner, Red Dust Healing supports First Nations Australians who have been disproportionately affected by the bushfires, drought, and COVID-19. Through cultural healing programs, we are helping Indigenous Australians find deeper spiritual understanding in themselves and their community.
"When the dust settles on our lives, all you get to keep it and take with this is our dignity and integrity and the love and respect we shared with people." – Tom Powell
Caritas India was recently awarded for its work in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in India. With more than 10,000 cases a day, the country was set to overtake the United States in caseload. They worked tirelessly with health authorities to help ensure that a majority of vulnerable communities were kept safe from infection.
"As a strong collective, Caritas India partners and congregational institutions contributed in breaking the chain of spreading COVID-19 by sharing knowledge, resources and reaching out to the weak and marginalised communities." – Fr. Paul Moonjely
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