Water- and sanitation-related diseases remain among the major causes of death in children under the age of five. More than 800 children die every day from diarrheal diseases linked to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services. Worldwide, more than 2 million people die annually from such diseases; poor hygiene, unsafe water, and inadequate sanitation are responsible for nearly 90 percent of these deaths. Although the link between safe water, sanitation and hygiene, and improvements in health, poverty reduction, and socio-economic development is widely recognized, people in many parts of the world lack access to these necessities leaving them at risk of WASH-related diseases.
Acknowledging the urgent need to establish a Regional Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Center (RWSHC) in the Arab world that would lead efforts to address issues related to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene with a particular focus on the Global South, the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) seeks to establish a WASH Center—the first of its kind in the Arab world—focused on service and consultation, capacity building, and research. As a first step toward the establishment of this center, AUB launched in Atlanta, USA the Dr. Eugene G. Gangarosa WASH (GoWASH) Initiative to support projects related to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene at the University.
During the meeting which brought together public health experts and practitioners, FHS Dean Iman Nuwayhid highlighted the role of FHS and its commitment to global health and research in the region. “At FHS, we are very sincere about doing relevant research addressing top challenges in public health in Lebanon and the region. We don't stop there as we try to link our research and the evidence we get from our research to practice and policy," said Dean Nuwayhid.
With FHS being the primary voice for public health in the Arab world, Dean Nuwayhid added “we don't do it alone as we are very keen on establishing and working with regional and global partners. The objective is not only to strengthen what we are doing but also to make sure that through our Faculty we can carry the voice of the region into these international conferences. That's how the GoWASH initiative will benefit from such a structure."
The GoWASH Initiative will address major challenges in the provision and sustainability of safe water supplies, develop and implement appropriate sanitation measures, and promote sustainable hygiene initiatives and programs through proper risk analysis. The goal is to protect and promote human health and the well-being of particularly vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, the disadvantaged, and the displaced, in households, daycare centers, schools, and basic healthcare facilities.
“We are hoping and determined that we transform the GoWASH into a regional center. The fact that we link research, practice and policy to each other and we connect it to academic programs, that's the kind of environment that this initiative will be working on. The research that we do will be translated into public health policy and change of practice in different facilities and settings. I think that will translate into higher impact," stated Dean Nuwayhid.
FHS played a pivotal role in 2014-15 helping to guide the development of a national five-year plan for Lebanon on health and the environment that addressed seven major environmental concerns: water, sanitation, air pollution, chemical safety management of healthcare waste, environmental emergency preparedness, climate change challenges, and sustainable development. Since 1990, it has worked with the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research, academic Institutions (such as Lebanese American University and Lebanese University), UNICEF, and others to establish a National Water Research Unit/Associate Research Unit on Potable Water Quality and Management.
About Dr. Eugene G. Gangarosa
He is a renowned physician, research scientist, educator, leader, and philanthropist, Dr. Gangarosa's career in public health has spanned more than 50 years. He has left an enduring legacy at numerous institutions around the world: at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where he laid the foundation for a cholera treatment that drastically reduced infant mortality; at the Pakistan Medical Research Center; the Centers for Disease Control; and at Emory University. He and his wife, Rose Gangarosa, made a gift to Emory University in 2004 to establish the Center for Global Safe Water (now the Center for Global Safe WASH) “to address the critical public health problems attributed to lack of safe water, access to sanitation, and adequate personal hygiene in the developing world." Celebrated worldwide as a “public health legend" and an “international expert in unsafe water," Dr. Gangarosa has an especially long and personal connection to AUB and its Faculty of Health Sciences that he helped establish and led from 1978 to 1981.