Improved water, sanitation services best answer to Zika virus: UN experts

Sun Online Desk

12th March, 2016 10:01:53 printer

Improved water, sanitation services best answer to Zika virus: UN experts

As the world looks for hi-tech solutions to the Zika virus, all should not forget the appalling state of water and sanitation access of the poor, a key underlying determinant of the right to health, said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller.

"We can engineer sterile mosquitoes or use sophisticated Internet tools to map data globally, but we should not forget that today a hundred million people in Latin America still lack access to hygienic sanitation systems and seventy million people lack piped water in their places of residence," the independent expert said.

There is a strong link between weak sanitation systems and the current outbreak of the mosquito borne Zika virus, as well as dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya, Heller said, "and the most effective way to tackle this problem is to improve the failing services."

Regarding sanitation, the goal remains unachieved and 3 million people still practice open defecation, according to a message received from Geneva on Friday.

"Because of stricter definitions for the related goals within the framework of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, these will reveal an even more dramatic lack of access to safe water and sanitation in the region," he warned.

"When people have inadequate living and housing conditions, where they do not have access to safely managed water services, they tend to store water in unsafe ways that attract mosquitoes," the UN expert on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, noted.

"In addition, poor sanitation systems where wastewater flows through open channels and is disposed of in unsafe pits leads to stagnant water and unfit housing - a perfect habitat for breeding mosquitoes."

Women and children are disproportionately affected by the current Zika virus outbreak and health systems need to be ready to respond to their specific health needs and rights by listening to their concerns, ensuring their autonomy, and involving them in the measures that affect them, reports UNB.

"Governments in the region must speed up the improvement of water and sanitation conditions, in particular for the most vulnerable populations, in order to save lives in the face of this unfolding global health crisis," Special Rapporteur Heller said, reports UNB.

This statement has also been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on health, Dainius Pūras, and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston.