Sun, Sea and Sanitation – APHA 2008 in San Diego

By Isobel Hoskins

A visiting UK editor’s impressions of the APHA conference….

I didn’t attend that many scientific sessions at APHA this year, being preoccupied with meetings about Global Health database and visiting exhibitors in the vast exhibition but those I did go to seemed to keep bringing up sanitation and hygiene as the key to so much disease prevention. Its really part of next years’ theme, Water and Health.

First, the speech by the US Assistant Secretary for Health Joxel Garcia reminded us that the major impacts on public health last century in the developed world were achieved by vaccines and sanitation. I was thinking- is enough effort now being applied to doing this for the developing world? Or are more glamorous projects getting the money. The Millenium Development Goal for sanitation is apparently behind where it should be.

Next, Professor Peter Hotez working on neglected tropical diseases gave a interesting talk about how he and co-workers have developed a cheap one stop drug treatment for 7 neglected tropical diseases. But he neglected to mention prevention rather than cure. Prevention would mean the populations would not be dependent on aid agencies providing the drugs every year. 3 of those 7 diseases are spread by contact with faeces, and improving sanitation would work for those. Is it cost that prevents this?

Handwashing came up too in the context of preventing the spread of avian influenza and in preventing diarrhoea in children. Handwashing is a difficult behaviour to change and I don’t envy anyone trying to do this. We often don’t even do it properly in the developed world, just look at the number of research studies trying to get doctors, who really should know about hygiene, to wash their hands. A recent study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine highlighted how many of the general public don’t wash their hands in the UK. We are just fortunate we can get away with it because our environment does not contain quite so many of these pathogens – in part because the sanitation is better. Sanitation again.

And this brings me to a video put out by Water Aid recently trying to raise the profile of the importance of sanitation: Toilet Virals.

I guess I’d better attend APHA conference next year!


If you are interested in global health resources, visit our website for information about CABI’s global health database. You may also want to check out CABI’s activities related to agro-bio and environmental sciences.

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