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PLOS BLOGS Speaking of Medicine and Health

UN World Toilet Day 2016

PLOS Medicine and PLOS NTDs reflect on 15 years of World Toilet Day and announce the WASH Collection.

UN World Toilet Day highlights the urgent need to address a global sanitation crisis by providing toilets and sewage management systems and to aggressively implement programs of WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene). Today clean water and sanitation constitute an important UN Sustainable Development Goal  ,  but the first World Toilet Summit was held 15 years ago, coinciding with formation of the World Toilet Organization.

Sustainable Development Goal 6: “Clean Water and Sanitation.”
Sustainable Development Goal 6: “Clean Water and Sanitation.”

When it was launched on November 19, 2001, and later in 2013 when it became an official UN day, UN World Toilet Day has focused primarily on the poorest countries in the ‘Global South’.  However, additional information now also highlights a surprising level of poverty-related neglected diseases linked to inadequate sanitation in impoverished areas of wealthy countries .  For example in the rural Southern United States social activists such as Catherine Flowers and her colleagues have identified major WASH gaps among the poor, especially in Black America .  We recognize that WASH efforts are particularly accelerated when paired with rapid, even, and equitable economic development as we saw in post-World War II Japan and Korea, or today in Eastern China.

PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), PLOS Medicine, Speaking of Medicine, and the PLOS family of journals are committed to highlighting the impact of WASH and allied measures on reducing the global burden of neglected diseases.  For example in 2013 we published a major policy platform on integrating WASH into current NTD control programs  , with additional pieces in 2014 specifically emphasizing soil-transmitted helminth, schistosomiasis, and trachoma control and elimination efforts.  Similarly, we have published a call to action for examining the impact of WASH on maternal and child health, together with an editorial emphasizing our special committed relationship to WASH.

Research published in 2015-16 has included, among other WASH topics, studies of the incidence of suspected cholera following interruptions to the piped water supply and whether upgrading piped water continuity is associated with decreased waterborne illnesses, associations between poor sanitation and risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, a trial of handwashing and nail-clipping to reduce intestinal parasite infection in school-age children, and a case-control study of sanitation and hygiene-specific risk factors diarrhea in young children.

At PLOS we salute global WASH efforts and hope to continue highlighting its important public health and economic benefits! You can find the research mentioned above, along with other WASH-related content in the new WASH Collection, launching today.


The authors are the lead editors for PLOS NTDs, PLOS Collections, Speaking of Medicine, and PLOS Medicine.


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