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Celebrate Solutions: Is Access to Safe Water A Secret Ingredient to Reducing Maternal Deaths?

By: Whitney Sogol, Women Deliver

In a recent PLOS article, “From Joint Thinking to Joint Action: A Call to Action on Improving Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Maternal and Newborn Health,” representatives from WaterAid, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, WHO, UNICEF, UN Population Fund, UNFPA, and the Share Research Consortium, put forward a case that access to safe water is an overlooked but essential tool for reducing maternal mortality—a development goal that has proven particularly hard to reach.

In the health facility and at home, for many expectant mothers living in low-resource settings, safe water will not be available when they give birth. While more research is needed on the correlation between access to safe water and maternal mortality, preliminary findings suggest that integrating safe water, as well as basic sanitation and hygiene measures, into maternal health interventions and programs may help decrease maternal mortality.

Citing the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as an opportunity to pilot new solutions to old problems, the authors of the PLOS piece called on those responsible for finalizing and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to include water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in specific targets and goals of the post-2015 development framework.

There are a broad range of initiatives to improve access to safe water already underway (e.g., The Replenish Africa Initiative—RAIN, the Clean Water Access Initiative) to learn from. Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW), a philanthropic effort launched in 2004 to enable children and families throughout the developing world to purify highly contaminated water, has been particularly successful in this space and warrants exploration as a “best practices” model for how to expand access to safe water.

The lynchpin of the CSDW program is P&G’s easy-to-use, low-cost 4g powder-based water purification packet, which can be used to make 10 liters of contaminated water into 10 liters of clean drinking water. Over the past 10 years, and with the support of 140 partners operating in more than 75 countries, P&G has helped save an estimated 43,000 lives with clean water via its water purification packets. It has also delivered the equivalent of one liter of water for every person on the planet—that is over 7 billion liters.

Five clinical studies on P&G’s packets, led by public health experts including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins University, showed that proper use of P&G packets can reduce diarrheal illnesses in children under 5 by an average of 50% and in the overall population.

The value of clean water, sanitation and hygiene is crystal clear. What is less clear, and therefore worthy of further investigation, is whether identifying the features of P&G’s CSDW Program that contributed to its rapid expansion and success and integrating these features into efforts to improve maternal health could accelerate progress to address the seemingly intractable issue of maternal mortality. 

If the SDGs related to girls and women are to see a better fate than the MDGs focused on similar issues, the global development community must look across issues and sectors to find new solutions. Let the journey begin.

For more information on the P&G CSDW Program, click here.

Photo via: csdw.org

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