Launch of Cochrane Review on WASH and Chilhood Undernutrition – Nov 6, 2013. | Source: SHARE
The UK Launch of the Cochrane Review on WASH and Childhood Undernutrition was held yesterday at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Lead author Dr Alan Dangour, Senior Nutrition Lecturer at LSHTM, presented the findings, followed by comments from a distinguished panel including Ms Anna Taylor, Senior Nutrition Advisor at the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Mr Girish Menon, Director or International Programmes and Deputy Chief Executive at WaterAid and Professor Sandy Cairncross OBE of LSHTM.
This study was funded by DFID through the SHARE Research Consortium and provides a definitive synthesis of the current evidence relating improvements in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to childhood undernutrition. The study has attracted much interest in the scientific community as well as in the media, including stories in the BBC and in the Independent.
The full Cochrane Review can be accessed here. In brief, the evidence suggests that WASH interventions confer a benefit on growth in children under five years of age. These findings make an invaluable contribution to the area of child health. Almost 220 million children under the age of five years in low income countries suffer from chronic or acute undernutrition, which increases the risks of illness and death in childhood. Research and experience have shown that food-based interventions to tackle this problem cannot alone provide the solution, pointing to the importance of environmental factors. By consolidating and synthesising available research on the links between WASH and under nutrition this review provides an initial evidence base in favour of putting greater emphasis on WASH in nutrition interventions and lays the groundwork additional research in this area.
Anna Taylor spoke on the strength of this evidence base in relation to similar evidence on comparative nutrition interventions. She also highlighted the challenge that lies ahead, of applying these findings to create meaningful integration of programmes aimed at improving nutritional outcomes in children under the age of five. One important step forward, she said, would be to use this new evidence to make a compelling case for including WASH as a nutrition specific intervention to add to the existing ten interventions recommended in the Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition published in June this year.
Sandy Cairncross remarked on how this work on the linkages between WASH contributes to a long tradition of such thinking. Some of the earliest studies of the health impact of water and sanitation were by nutritionists: Leonardo Mata in Central America and Andrew Tomkins in Nigeria.
Girish Menon’s comments helped set the context for discussion on how to bring the research findings to life at a programmatic level, with examples of how WaterAid is taking this agenda forward through piloting of integrated WASH/nutrition interventions.