Is our definition of improved sanitation correct?
New research from the EHG both supports and challenges the current definition.
Oliver Cuming from the Environmental Health Group have recently published a paper which put to the test some of the core tenants of the definition of improved sanitation. The article was published recently in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology and is available in full here.
We asked the authors to explain the significance of the paper and its key findings.
Why is this study important?
To improve access to basic sanitation was part of the Millennium Development Goals, and remains a part of the sustainable development goals. However, what constitutes a hygienic form of sanitation remains unclear, both in respect to what the minimum form of technology is that is needed to protect health, and whether sharing a form of sanitation with people outside your family constitutes a risk or not.
What are the key findings of the study?
The study, conducted in Tanzania, found that pit latrines without a concrete slab where significantly more contaminated, expressed by the number of E. coli found at point of hand contact within the latrine, than pit latrines with a concrete slab. In addition pit latrines without a concrete slab were often found to be positive for helminths eggs. The results support the definition of a pit latrine without a slab as an unimproved form of sanitation, as is currently the case by the Joint Monitoring Programme. However, the study found that latrines shared by more than one family where not more contaminated, than those used by a single family, arguing that the shared toilets should not be classified as unimproved forms of sanitation.
What are some of the things you learned personally while conducting the study?
That it will be very hard to define a toilet use or management characteristic that will help in distinguishing between improved and unimproved forms of sanitation, and that technology alone will not be sufficient to make this distinction.
Photos of the researchers doing data collection in toilets in Tanzania.