Poor water quality, major cause of water-related diseases

“Water quality, long regarded as the prime indicator of health and well-being, plays a crucial role in determining the cause and transmission of a disease,” said Dr. Raul V. Destura, Director of the Institute of Biotechnology and Molecular Biology, National Institutes of Health during his presentation in the Roundtable Discussion on Water Borne Diseases at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino, Manila last May 10, 2012.

In the developing world, inadequate water supply, sanitation facilities, and poor hygiene are the prime causes of widespread and serious health problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one billion people do not have access to safe and drinking water while 2.9 billion do not have adequate sanitation facilities. These result to three million water-related deaths per year, majority of whom are children.

“The water-related infections of man are extremely numerous and diverse. Disease transmission via water is categorized into waterborne, water-washed, water-based and water-vectored,” explained Dr. Destura.

Waterborne diseases are outbreaks related to water quality. “Pathogens are transmitted through contaminated water sources. These pathogens live in water and human generally needs a low dose of them to become infected,” said Dr. Destura. Examples of waterborne diseases are typhoid and cholera.

Where water is limited it is challenging to control the other routes of pathogen transmission. “Water-washed diseases generally occur when there is not enough water available and, therefore, personal hygiene is compromised,” said Dr. Destura.

Water-based diseases, on the other hand, occur when a pathogen is transmitted through a host that lives in the water. “Example is schistosomiasis, a long, thin worm hosted by snails during part of its development. It penetrates human skin once a human come in contact with water,” explained Dr. Destura.

Malaria, yellow fever and dengue are examples of water-vectored diseases. These are infections spread by insects that breed in or bite near water.

The improvement of access to water is a crucial element in the fight against water-related diseases. “Let’s develop and promote household water treatment methods, disseminate information on proper hygiene, improve access to water-related health information, upgrade sanitation facilities and provide capacity building for outbreaks investigations, environment sampling methods and disinfection and filtration systems,” stressed Dr. Destura.