No-Plumbing Disease

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A few days ago at a DC-style networking session for public health folks, I introduced myself as the Communications Director for Water Advocates.

I am used to receiving surprised - and even shocked - expressions when people learn that poor sanitation and unsafe water cause the illnesses that fill half of the hospital beds in the developing world and ten percent of the entire global disease burden , even if I am amidst the public health folks of that world.

Yet, without missing a beat, the doctor who organized the event spoke up. "You must know that plumbing was the biggest contribution to improving public health in history."

"Yes!" I exclaimed, overjoyed to finally meet a medical doctor who understands that plumbing is the best way to save lives.

He was referring to the fact that when developed countries like the U.S., Japan, and England installed water and sanitation systems, they
eradicated diseases like cholera and typhoid that caused death by diarrhea. Plumbing has saved millions of lives - our lives.

Still, billions of people in the world don't have access to safe drinking water or a place to dispose their feces. Subsequently, 1.5 million children die every year.

We hear public outcries in national news headlines, through savvy leadership, and championed by celebrity spokespeople on many poverty-related diseases that are more costly to prevent, cannot yet be treated, or kill fewer people.

When such a simple, cheap, tried-and-true public health intervention is so present in our lives - and could prevent an astronomical death toll
- why am I still surprised when people know about it?

Blame it on the name.

There are over 25 deadly and debilitating diseases that are the result of poor sanitation and unsafe water; they include cholera, typhoid, amoebic dysentery, campylobacter enteritis, giardia, Guinea worm, schistosomiasis, bacillary dysentery (shigellosis), Escherichia Coli diarrhea. And there are at least 10 lesser known ones. Perhaps if we considered these as one disease it would garner the public outcry it deserves.

Let's call it No-Plumbing Disease.

If we did so, would then see that No-Plumbing Disease kills more children than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB combined. We would see the truth of this ugly situation; the relentless outbreaks of diarrhea that, when they don't kill kids, weaken them month after month. We'd not be able to ignore the instances of a single child, for example, suffering a dozen bouts of it per year, the ensuing malnutrition, the family's economic burden of curing the child, the impact this constant sickness has on a child's education.

The most practical investment we can make in global public health is plumbing.

Of course, plumbing is an oversimplified way of talking about solutions for improving water quality and sanitation. Many of the existing solutions are
simple basic infrastructure, such as implementing a ceramic water filter or a pit latrine. And we need to be more environmentally minded as we develop
these systems.

But the main point remains: dirty water and lack of sanitation cause No-Plumbing Disease. The solutions exist right now to solve this crisis. Call it what it is, and give it the attention it rightfully deserves. If we can do so, millions of lives would be saved each year.

Katryn Bowe from Water Advocates co-authored this blog, which was reprinted with the author's permission.

17 Comments on "No-Plumbing Disease"

phatmanxxl's picture
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I wonder how many qualified plumers are willing to work in those 3rd world war torn dictatorships. Maybe Obama can buy each of them a toilet and a lifetime supply of TP since they dont want to do it themselves.

ChiefThunderbutt's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatorf 5000+ points
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Not wanting to improve your standard of living and the inability to afford such improvements are two entirely different things.
You will find very few citizens of third world countries who do not desperately want to improve their standard of living. My doctor will be returning to his homeland in Africa soon and will be making a heroic attempt to improve the health of the destitute population of a poverty stricken nation. When you spend every cent you earn to keep a marginal food supply on the table plumbing is an unobtainable luxury of which you can only dream. It isn't because you are to lazy to install it yourself, but because you just can't afford it.

The daily lives of some in equatorial countries
focuses on realities like "guinea worm" and where to get the $5.00 to purchase a mosquito net that may safe the life of their child. A
million and a half children will die this year from malaria. Do a Google search on "guinea worm" and look at one of the most horrible afflictions that can beset a loved one.

I am not a deeply religious man but I try to be spiritual. There is a proverb that says, "We take with us to the grave only what we give away in life." From those who have much, much is expected. Next time you have a six-pack and a pizza think about how many innocent children could have been given the gift of life with that small amount of money. I don't advocate giving away all your worldly possessions but in the words of the Dalia Lamma, "We need to learn how to share."
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Eat chilies and feel the burn!!

How long a minute is depends on what side of the bathroom door you're on!

Bilgepump's picture
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I've never had this, but I'd like to try "schistosomiasis", sounds like fun.

Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia, bilharziosis or snail fever) is a parasitic disease caused by several species of fluke of the genus Schistosoma.

Although it has a low mortality rate, schistosomiasis often is a chronic illness that can damage internal organs and, in children, impair growth and cognitive development.[1] The urinary form of schistosomiasis is associated with increased risks for bladder cancer in adults.[1] Schistosomiasis is the second most socioeconomically devastating parasitic disease after malaria.[1]

This disease is most commonly found in Asia, Africa, and South America, especially in areas where the water contains numerous freshwater snails, which may carry the parasite.

The disease affects many people in developing countries, particularly children who may acquire the disease by swimming or playing in infected water.
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The proper order is kiss me, then go smell the other dog or cat's butt. I cannot stress this enough.

"One of the founding members of the Front Page Hyena Pack, and runs as its alpha male when the urge strikes him, which is often." Daphne (one perceptive chick)

Squat-n-leaveit's picture
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Plumbing is a great idea. Unfortunately it is invasive, expensive, and unlikely to happen anytime soon. If you want to save lives today, check out lifestraw. Simple, inexpensive, and now.

ChiefThunderbutt's picture
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I don't know if this link will work or not
(I am a computer dummy). but you can do a Google search on guinea worm disease and read how unpleasant it can be to have a yard long worm living inside you and intent on burrowing out through your skin.
http://www.dhpe.org/infect/guinea.html
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Squat....I checked out Lifestraw and it indeed can stop the horror of guinea worm and the ravages of several other water borne parasites.
I recall having seen this on TV several years ago. The inventor was walking down the road sipping water from puddles with apparent immunity to the microbes whose habitat he was drinking from.


Eat chilies and feel the burn!!

How long a minute is depends on what side of the bathroom door you're on!

Antigone's picture
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I'm glad I can call this place my home, 'cause man, I have a story of my own.
So I was chillin out, maxin, relaxin outside of the palace when my uncle Creon went all nuts, said my brother was attackin' the province, I said "So what?" Creon practically shit a brick in his pants, said, "Yo Anti, we gotta stop that man!" I told him "Nah forget it, yo homes, to Colonus!"
My brother didn't quit in the next few days, practically tore down the city with his nefarious ways, my sister Ismeme was flipping her shit, said, "Antigone if he don't stop he's gonna get lit!"
Well get lit he did, from my other brother himself, said, "boy, what else?" I was majorly pissed when old uncle Creon said, "we ain't gonna bury him, don't care if he's dead."
So against the law he laid down I went and buried the boy, I got caught though, oi! And they dragged me off to this stony thing, my boyfriend H was all upset and rang the doorbell, ding! He came in with me and I said, "my last hours are nigh, boy, get that sword off your thigh". As I took my last breath I also took my last dump, and with a sigh of relief I fell in the arms of that chump.

daphne's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardSite AdminComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatore 6000+ points
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I forgot that we don't do weekend content! This was a freebie.

Sorry, Dave.
_______
.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

cornleg's picture
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I agree 100%. I must add that it seems intentional and not a failure at all, but a cruel success.

Don't move the truck I'm still on the bucket!

meowpoo's picture
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obama probably isn't going to do that phatmanxxl.
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-- what smells? shit!

-- what smells? shit!

Squat-n-leaveit's picture
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Once again I will plug lifestraw

meowpoo's picture
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what ever.
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-- what smells? shit!

-- what smells? shit!

daphne's picture
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Squat, for once I totally agree and applaud a product plug. Lifestraw looks wonderful. Good for you.


_______
.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

.....hugging bunnies since 1969
www.daphneszoo.com

Poonanza's picture
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Yeah it looks pretty badass. We should buy a bunch and send them to Haiti, my unit is down there now. If they can make it to filter parasites too, it would be invaluable.

How long does it take before it becomes uncool to answer an old-ass post?

Squat-n-leaveit's picture
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Compared to the viruses and bacteria, parasites are HUGE and easy to filter out.

Poo for the Planet's picture
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John, I suggest you have it exactly backwards (a very bad thing when discussing poo). Plumbing, or rather INADEQUATE plumbing, is the CAUSE of water-borne disease, not its solution. Back in the days when Londoners pooped in the Thames (not so long ago), courtesy of their new-fangled flushing toilets which made it appear that everything is clean and civilised, it was pretty much guaranteed you would die if you fell into, or went anywhere near, the fetid poo soup that resulted. Crapping in your drinking water is NOT a civilised thing to do. It doesn't make any difference whether you squat in the river or send the poo through some pipes. The result is the same.

The immensely complicated and expensive system of water "purification" that sits behind your flush toilet is what makes it more-or-less safe. Without that - and there are many so-called civilised countries where poo STILL gets discharged basically untreated into waterways - the whole thing falls down. The system is rarely used not because people are stupid but because it is RIDICULOUSLY expensive and requires vast quantities of water. In other words, it's a very poor design.

The more modern solution is the composting toilet, which is essentially a distributed-model waste treatment system. It relies on absorbent bulk material, isolation of poo from industrial chemicals, and friendly bacteria to do the job which we currently attempt with some ridiculous Heath Robinson machinery. It's a whole lot cheaper and produces no pollution. Even better, the result (compost) contains no harmful pathogens, for the same reason that yoghurt (bacteria-digested milk) does not: the composting colonies destroy or out-compete the nasty stuff. Join us, John! Poo for the Planet! Together, we can make the world a better place, not by tipping our poo into our drinking water, but by recycling it.

MSG's picture
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Two things: (1) I had not seen the post from Antigone; nice brief retelling of the ancient Greek tragedy!

(2) How many people can the composting toilet accommodate before being overloaded and failing to function? Not many, I bet. A toilet that is overwhelmed with many people's feces will just become a disease vector itself and will worsen the situation because people rely on it when it is no longer functioning. A good outhouse, to be used by a prudent number of people, would be better than that.

Poo for the Planet's picture
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MSG:

1) The whole point of a composting toilet is that you're supposed to USE the compost, ie., it gets emptied every six months or so. The compost looks and smells exactly like ordinary soil, I kid you not. It's a recycling process, not a 'chuck in in the river and hope it goes away' system, which is the present backward, uncivilised method we're using at the moment.

2) A composting toilet doesn't get overwhelmed because the composting process involves significant dehydration. An adult human will produce about 100kg of finished compost in a year - that's all.

In what way is an "outhouse" better? It is essentially the same thing, except the poo moulders and stinks like Satan's nether regions, instead of getting aerobically digested. The key difference is that a composting toilet is "flushed" with dry organic material such as wood shavings, rice husks, leaves, or pretty much anything you have to hand. This addition sets up the proper biological conditions for composting.