As a follow up to our post on travel philanthropy, a word of caution in regards to a common problem affecting areas trying to recover from destructive events: poor sanitation systems.

Diarrheal diseases, including those linked to improper sanitation, are the second leading cause of death in the developing world, taking 2 million lives annually.   Fecal contamination of drinking water is the main source of most diarrheal illnesses, and is almost inevitable in areas without working toilets and sewage treatment facilities.

Research intended to end this scourge is a small fraction of what is spent on AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. But now the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is funding eight university teams developing new designs for the toilet. Some divert and capture urine, from which water can be recovered. Others produce energy from excrement by turning it into charcoal or gas. None of the new systems require the toilet be connected to a grid for sewage treatment.  One of the conditions of the Gates Foundation funding is that the overall cost of future toilets, including maintenance, cannot exceed 5 cents per user per day.  The benefits, in terms of improved health care and lower mortality, would easily outweigh such a modest investment.

Distributing this new technology will take time, of course. Until a solution is in place, if you are traveling to help out in an area where poor sanitation is an issue, make sure to purify all water before drinking it or washing with it.

Photo from The Gates Foundation.


About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

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