Around the world more than 2.5 billion people do not have access to a toilet, and more than 1 billion people defecate in the open, impacting human health and leaving women and girls vulnerable to the risk of gender based violence. Poor sewage filters contribute to the spread of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea.
Last week, was World Toilet Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of the hundreds of thousands of preventable child deaths caused every year by poor sanitation. An estimated 64 children around the world die every hour from diarrhoea alone.
To many in the developed world, the thought of losing your child to a disease like diarrhoea is unthinkable. In developing countries like Nigeria and India, it is reality. Children suffering from chronic diarrhoea also face stunted growth, impairing their ability to realise their true potential.
Poor health also has a significant economic impact, with countries like Nigeria losing as much as 1.3 percent of national GDP to poor sanitation according to a 2012 desk study carried out by the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP). A serious economic burden is also placed on those affected by disease.
So far, despite significant efforts to build toilet facilities by governments , preventable child deaths have continued unabated. At Reckitt Benkiser, RB we believe that sanitation products targeted at the world’s poorest, within the right price bracket, can provide a sustainable way to encourage the essential behavioural change needed to stop child deaths from diarrhoea.
Some countries of the world, like India has embarked on an ambitious mission to provide access to toilets for more than 60 million Indian households by 2019. While the efforts are commendable, this essential work is not having the impact on public health. Building toilets does not provide a sustainable solution to keeping them clean.
While some may think that issues surrounding sanitation should fall to national governments and the international development community alone, there is a role for the private sector. Firms like RB, are using our expertise in hygiene and sanitation to solve problems for consumers at all levels. This includes people who may not yet understand the need for hygiene.
After two years of research and development, and working with some of the world’s leading chemical scientists, enzyme specialists, and fragrance experts from a number of leading businesses, we have developed two new affordable hygiene products: a multipurpose soap that can be used for washing hands, clothes, surfaces and bathing; and a toilet powder for open pit latrines that reduces faecal matter and the transmission of germs.
These two products, which are currently being piloted in Nigeria and Pakistan will later be introduced in India. They are specifically developed for consumers at the bottom of the pyramid. They are highly affordable and effective, without compromising on quality. For example, market research demonstrated the importance consumers placed on scent, as well as affordability.
Our toilet powder has a citrus fragrance, reducing unpleasant odours and encouraging consumers to make use of the hygienic pit latrines, as opposed to defecating openly in public areas. To contribute to ending these deaths, we have decided to invest into new product and fund our ‘Stop Diarrhoea’ campaign in collaboration with Save the Children, which aims to apply the World Health Organisation and UNICEF’s 7-point plan for diarrhoea treatment and prevention in Nigeria, India and Pakistan.
Too many people die unnecessarily from diarrhoea. It is a problem we can solve – but only if we harness the best of government, charities and the private sector. By taking a market approach to some of the world’s most intractable problems, the private sector can be at the heart of developing innovative solutions that empower some of the world’s poorest people and give them the products to significantly improve their own lives.
Rakesh Kapoor is the Global Chief Executive of RB, the world’s consumer health and hygiene company.