Local January 19, 2012 | 12:16 pm

Officials to gather in Santo Domingo to solve region’s lack of hygiene

Santo Domingo.- A group of prominent experts, academics and policy makers in Latin America, United States, Europe and Africa will meet in Santo Domingo from 19 to 20 January to address the integration of hygiene in water and sanitation policies beyond infrastructure. This is an issue that has taken on greater significance because of the challenges of health and quality of life faced by the population of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The international conference "Beyond Infrastructure: Integrating Public Health Policy on Water and Sanitation in Latin America" organized by the National Institute of Water and Sewerage (INAPA) and the World Bank – through its Water and Sanitation Program – will become a platform for international dialogue to share experiences and promote hygiene on how to integrate public policy with an intersectoral approach involving the private sector, communities, public and private media, central government and municipalities.

Although in recent years, countries in the region have carried out major sanitation infrastructure, different experiences in the world indicate that all the millions of dollars invested in works run the risk of lost unless they are accompanied by promotion of hygiene practices at home.

One in five Latin-Americans- equivalent to 120 million people- lacks access to basic quality sanitation, while 49 million do their business outdoors.

Poor hygiene and sanitation annually generates significant losses for developing countries. A recent study by the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program indicates that countries in Asia annually lose 2% to 7% of its GDP as a result. For this reason the water sector is a high priority for the World Bank, with more than $ 20 billion committed in over 90 countries during the last decade, including $ 2.4 billion in Latin America.

Other recent studies show that hygiene is a key factor in developing countries since it helps to reduce diarrhea rates by almost 40% and the incidence of acute respiratory infections by about 23%. There are also documented experiences where hygiene practices have an impact on reducing truancy. In China, for example, promotion and distribution of soap in primary schools represented 54% fewer days of absence of students.

Thus the concept of hygiene becomes a key component of public policies in developing countries.

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