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SHARE Consortium on Sanitation and Hygiene: Rebuilding the Forgotten Foundations of Health

The life-saving importance of proper sanitation, clean water and adequate hygiene were underlined by DFID minister Stephen O’Brien, MP, at an event to mark the launch of the SHARE Consortium and publication of a new Water and Sanitation Series in the journal PLoS Medicine. O’Brien said that over 4,000 children are dying every day because of the lack of sanitation, hygiene and water, and presented SHARE as an effort by the UK government to address this crisis. The minister described SHARE as “bringing together the best minds, be they academic or practitioners, to ensure we scale up sanitation and hygiene for better health outcomes."
The PLoS Medicine Series highlights the severity and extent of these problems and the simple solutions at hand: 
2.4 million deaths, mainly among children, could be prevented every year with safer hygiene, sanitation and water
2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to even a basic toilet
Hand-washing with soap is the single most cost-effective health intervention and promotion of sanitation is close behind
The event at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on 16 November also marked the official beginning of the five-year DFID-funded SHARE consortium. This new initiative will generate research to accelerate progress on sanitation and hygiene in developing countries. SHARE (Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity) is led by the LSHTM with partners across Africa and South Asia. The other partners are the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and WaterAid.
A new era
Delivering his address in the John Snow lecture theatre (named after the physician who located the source of a London cholera outbreak in 1854), O’Brien referred to John Snow’s important discovery, and emphasised the relevance of such evidence and practical solutions. He showed how sanitation has been neglected – the sanitation target is the most off-track Millennium Development Goal target in Africa – and added: “DFID support to SHARE will deliver an unprecedented focus on what works and what doesn’t for sanitation and hygiene. SHARE will help us test the interventions that will deliver real results for poor people.”
Panellists at the event also regarded the PLoS Medicine and SHARE initiatives as heralding a new era for sanitation, water and hygiene research. Dr Jocalyn Clark, of PLoS Medicine, said: “There can be no excuses for individuals not to act on this evidence. We hope this is a story with a new chapter.” Dr Maria Neira, of the World Health Organization (WHO), called for a “second public health revolution” (saying that the first began with John Snow) and for more investment to be given for the prevention of the associated deaths and disease.
           Dr Maria Neira (left), WHO, and Girish Menon, WaterAid. Credit: Steve Franck 
Wide-ranging benefits
The critical importance of sanitation and water to broader development efforts were also mentioned repeatedly. Girish Menon, of WaterAid, stressed that “no city or town has ever secured an adequate level of public health without addressing access to sanitation.” Professor Parveen Kumar, President of the Royal Society of Medicine, argued that water and sanitation are human rights, and recalled how she met young girls in Liberia who had been attacked and raped whilst collecting water away from their homes. 
Finally, in closing the event, the chair, Clarissa Brocklehurst, of UNICEF, called the launch “historic” and summarised the significance of the issues raised. She said: “Water and sanitation are not only the foundations of health, but the foundations of development.”
By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer at LIDC