submitted by Dr. David Shoultz
12/09/2015 at 10:30

How are we going to save the 550,000 children who still die of diarrhea each year? It’s a daunting question. While vaccines against the leading cause of severe childhood diarrhea are key to prevention, treatment should also remain an important focus.  We know that oral rehydration solution (ORS) and zinc are the cornerstone treatments for diarrhea and that this combination already saves many children. While we still need to improve awareness about, access to, and use of ORS and zinc, we also need to identify the underlying causes of severe diarrhea in children and develop new approaches and innovations in treatments, diagnostics, and nutrition to address those causes. In fact, a recent report by Innovation Countdown 2030 highlighted new treatments for severe diarrhea as having the potential to save an estimated 251,000 children’s lives.  That’s a very attractive opportunity!

On a personal level, we are passionate about saving the lives of children and both of our organizations—icddr,b and PATH—have a strong history of innovations to address diarrheal disease. icddr,b (a global health research institution based in Bangladesh) was central in developing ORS and in demonstrating the effectiveness of zinc to treat diarrhea, and has an extensive portfolio of diarrheal disease research, particularly focusing on vaccines, behavioral and environmental interventions, diagnostics and treatment; PATH’s history and current work is rooted in advancing health technologies for low-resource settings, as well as improving access to proven interventions and strengthening healthy behaviors like handwashing with soap and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life. Because of our passion and the work of our respective organizations, we agreed to serve as co-chairs of the newly-formed Diarrhea Innovations Group (DIG)—an open source, global network of innovators committed to reducing child deaths from diarrhea by assembling like-minded organizations to accelerate the pace of innovative tools and approaches.

Modeled on the successful Pneumonia Innovations Team, the principle behind DIG is simple. If we bring together innovators and experts from industry, research, and implementing organizations, we can break down the research and innovation silos, foster review and debate around the needs and the associated innovations, and crowd source solutions to bottlenecks.  Note that we’re focused on not just ameliorating the most obvious symptom of this deadly disease, we’re looking to address the underlying conditions – infection, environmental enteropathy, and malnutrition – that may cause and result from diarrheal disease.  It’s an important challenge that is going to require a sustained collaborative effort.

The DIG will play a specific role in contributing to this effort by:

Ø  Convening bi-monthly group conference calls when we will hear a member speak about their research or innovation followed by all of us brainstorming on potential impact and solutions to challenges. 

Ø  Holding sub-group calls for members with special interest areas in treatment, nutrition, or diagnostics. 

Ø  Matchmaking—because we’ll be familiar with the research focus and innovation of many organizations, we will connect organizations and individuals from different sectors who are working in complementary areas. The matchmaking might focus on connecting members around similar research and technology or, in some cases, supporting the identification of funding sources to advance an innovation with particular promise.

We welcome participation from anyone around the world working in the diarrheal disease space. At the same time, one of DIG’s core operating principles will be to intentionally feature and listen to voices in countries where diarrheal diseases take the highest toll. These innovators and experts are on the front lines. They see the challenges on a daily basis and have special insight into the potential solutions and what will work.

            As a member, there is no expectation that you will join us in every discussion, but we hope that you will join us in this exciting journey to engage, exchange opportunities, build new partnerships, and advance this neglected field. Want to DIG in with us? Please visit or contact us at for more information.


Photo credit: PATH.

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submitted by icddr,b
11/24/2015 at 13:06

Last week, we marked World Toilet Day 2015, focusing on the fact that 2.4 billion people around the world today lack access to proper sanitation. Especially in South Asia, there are huge disparities in access to toilets, clean water, and properly handled and prepared food.

Good sanitation practices are important to highlight not only on World Toilet Day but every day, and they go hand-in-hand with other important health indicators: researchers studying the impact of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions and their implications for other outcomes like nutrition are revealing that they are inextricably linked.

With decades of experience studying WASH interventions in low-income settings, researchers at icddr,b (the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh) and elsewhere have generated evidence on a range of interventions with the potential to significantly improve health outcomes for the world’s poorest people. Because WASH is often central to good health, we proudly present our top ten (evidence-based) toilet tips! 

1.       Wash hands after using the toilet

Handwashing has proven to reduce transmission of many diseases, from enteric (diarrheal) diseases to respiratory infections. Research has demonstrated that just a small amount of clean water used for handwashing after using the toilet can reduce the chances of transmitting disease by as much as 95%.

2.       Provide a safe space for girls and women to use the toilet

Girls and women need access to basic sanitation facilities, particularly when they are menstruating. In Bangladesh, 45% of schools lack clean sanitary facilities, leading to girls missing classes during their periods. Based on icddr,b-led research, the Bangladesh Government recently released a circular recommending improved access to toilets in schools, particularly for girls.

3.       Use facilities if and when they are available and dispose of waste properly

Open defecation has many negative side effects: waste can get into water systems and food, and it is generally unpleasant. In the South Asian subcontinent, Bangladesh has seen great progress in reducing the rates of open defecation: from 34% in 1990 to 3% in 2012.Publiccampaigns and awareness-raising have greatly contributed to this reduction in numbers.

4.       Even when using basic sanitary facilities, make sure to clean them after use

Aside from being generally thoughtful toward the next user, leaving sanitary facilities clean can reduce transmission of disease from one person to another. Even in basic sanitary facilities like pit latrines, it is essential to leave behind as little trace as possiblefor the next user. When lacking running water, even a small amount of water can help clean up a facility after use, and will certainly help in reducing odours and ensure a clean facility.

5.       Encourage parents to dispose of their children’s waste properly, and not in the open

Parents of young children who are not toilet trained should avoid disposing of their kids’ waste openly. Providing parents with a potty for toilet training their children and encouraging parents to dispose of the waste properly, i.e. in a toilet or latrine, can prevent contamination of the environment and promote good sanitation practices from an early age. In Bangladesh, promotion of good sanitary practices and changing behaviour to apply these has been a key success factor in reducing the rates of open defecation. On-going research by icddr,b includes behaviour change messages as a key success factor for improving hygiene conditions, even in basic sanitation facilities and latrines.

6.       Promote basic hygiene and sanitation practices in the community

A key component in Bangladesh’s success in reducing open defecation has been the involvement of community leaders in promoting good toilet hygiene. In fact, by mapping out the placeswhere open defecation was practiced, and demonstrating this to communities, people were surprised at how close these practices happened to homes and mosques. This contributed to a trigger in attitude and practice, which is a key element of behaviour change.

7.       Take extra care in practicing sanitation when feeling ill

Practicing basic hygiene is extra important in ensuring that infections do not spread. Basic hand-washing practices and ensuring the toilet is left clean for the next user can help avoid spreading disease. Studies have shown that washing hands, even with a little water, can reduce the spread of both gastrointestinal and respiratory infection.

8.       Ensure a proper distance between your sanitary facility and where you cook, eat or sleep

Studies have shown that there is a correlation between the distance from sanitation facilities to living places and reduction in the spread of disease. Ongoing research presented at the 2015 University of North Carolina Water Microbiology Conference (see Abstract Book, p. 23)is investigating the impact of maintaining a safe distance, or an enclosed space, where the toilet can be properly placed to ensure good health for the entire family, and even the community.

9.       Make sure your septic tank/waste pit is appropriately sealed, and regularly checked

In areas where access to running water is limited or lacking, a septic tank or latrine pit is the most sanitary option. A current icddr,b study of dual-pit latrines in Bangladesh aims to encourage families to switch septic pits when they are full. In doing so, sanitary conditions are improved and at a safe distance from family and community activities. What’s more: the waste from a full tank becomes solid after 8-10 months and can be used as fertilizer in the fields.

10.   Good sanitation leads to better general health outcomes, and may even contribute to good nutrition and reduction in growth stunting

Good sanitation practices have long-term benefits: by preventing the spread of diarrheal disease, in particular recurring bouts of diarrhoea, we can help improve nutrition outcomes for children and infants. New ongoing research on the interaction between diarrheal disease and gut health is beginning to show that recurring intestinal infections can have long-term effects on nutrition uptake in children, which impacts growth and cognitive development later in life.


Photo credits: PATH.

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Bihar latrine designs
submitted by Jennifer Foster, Leader of PATH’s WASH portfolio; and John Sauer, Senior Technical Advisor for PSI’s WASH program
11/19/2015 at 00:34

A toilet as an aspiration? In countries where we take flushing for granted, this perspective might be hard to understand. But when family finances are so scarce that school fees, nutritious food, and even basic health care stretch income beyond its limits, a toilet is often an unattainable extra: It would be nice, not to mention help keep my family safe and healthy, but how can I even begin to afford it? Further, when  open defecation is a routine behavior—a mobile phone in hand while venturing out in the field at dawn is a usual sight—how can you sell toilets that are aspirational and affordable?

PSI and PATH have been working in rural India to help families bridge this gap between aspiration and ownership. Considering not only income limitations but also the preferences and needs of poor communities in Bihar, our collaboration has helped build a market for the sale of 20,000 toilets that are designed to be cost-effective and user-friendly—and we’re just getting started. Financing options, coupled with user-centered design, will remain essential as we aim to advance our impact to 150,000 homes.


(Top photo) A typical latrine in Bihar, for those who could afford to construct it. Durability, privacy, and security were among key user requirements for an updated, aspirational design. Community members evaluated the updated designs (bottom photo) and provided important input.

PSI dug deep to find out where the supply chain failed consumers. One example is the sprawl of materials, often spread among more than 10 separate vendors – from bricks to build walls and cement rings to line the pit to materials to construct a roof and latches to secure the door. 

Applying PSI’s market evaluation and a rapid user assessment, PATH worked with families, community leaders, and manufacturers to design a toilet based on what was essential, what was practical, what was appropriate, and also aspirational. PATH continually iterated and refined the manufacturing process from a disparate set of material suppliers to an efficient, semi-centralized approach focused on consistently producing high-quality latrines. We added design features that garnered appreciative feedback from users, like handles to help children and older individuals balance; a shelf to hold soap or menstrual hygiene products, or to stash a mobile phone. One particular interview with users took an interesting turn during a lashing rainstorm: the importance of a strong, durable design was impossible to ignore once five adults (plus one small boy) piled into a model latrine to escape the elements!

Community feedback was crucial to informing design updates as well as understanding opinions about appropriate financing options and factors of affordability.

We were then able to go to market with an innovative design for a toilet that reduced the cost by about $200 on the typical toilet in Bihar. But even with a price reduction plus more aspirational design and marketing, a toilet remains out of reach for many. Existing financial systems were inadequate; for example, the Indian government provides a sanitation subsidy, but only after a toilet is built. To take that first step, families often need a loan, but no sanitation loan products existed.

PSI helped facilitate loans to sanitation entrepreneurs, which allowed them to partner with other vendors to organize labor and materials. They can manufacture more products, too, and pass savings onto consumers. In collaboration with Friends of Women’s World Banking as fund manager, PSI was able to infuse cash into microfinance institutions that made it possible for households to take out loans to purchase a toilet. Usually microfinance loans are reserved for income-generating activities, but this alteration in terms allowed for direct loans to consumers, and provided many families access to an essential product that would ensure better health for their community. 

Manufacturers added pivotal perspectives on materials, supply logistics, production processes, practicality, and affordability. 

Calling Bihar rural can be a misnomer: Communities are dense, and homes are grouped closely. Living in such proximity, environmental health issues affect everyone, and people have to look out for one another. Without broad sanitation coverage, pathogens remain in the environment, and even those with toilets are exposed. That is why 20,000 toilets are not enough. That is why we will continue pushing for total coverage, keep breaking down barriers, overcoming challenges, and working with communities to find innovative sanitation solutions.


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submitted by Lauren Newhouse
11/17/2015 at 13:06

This photo is the November feature for DefeatDD's 2015 toilet calendar. See how we "go" around the world. Photo credit: Marco Betti/WaterAid.

Sandwiched between World Pneumonia Day (November 12) and World Toilet Day (November 19) is this funny week where we don’t really know what to do with ourselves. Do we keep talking about pneumonia or do we start talking about toilets? Oh what to do.

To solve this pickle, I tried to think about what every sandwich needs to bring it together. Meat. (For non-vegetarians, that is.) And what’s the meat that bridges the space between pneumonia and toilets? Well, sanitation, of course.

I’ll spare you the poorly crafted jokes about washing your hands before eating sandwiches and go straight into why sanitation and hygiene are key links between coughs and commodes.

Limited sanitation and open defecation in the world’s poorest regions spread germs that make children vulnerable to repeated and deadly diarrhea. When toilets are available, however, the risks for spreading disease don’t end there.

Touching a toilet transfers all of those human waste germs to your hands. Everything you touch after that without washing your hands gets exposed to those germs. In this light, it’s easy to see how diarrheal disease can spread pretty quickly in communities without ready access to handwashing facilities.

Ok, so the toilet-diarrheal disease link is a bit obvious.

Perhaps a little less obvious is that other diseases, like pneumonia, can also spread by lack of sanitation and hygiene. Pneumonia has many causes, bacterial and viral. Together with diarrheal disease, it kills more kids than any other infectious disease worldwide. (It’s also a major risk in an infant’s early days, and a threat, too, to premature babies—who happen to be another focus of advocacy efforts this week.) The most common cause of severe childhood pneumonia—the pneumococcus bacterium—can live for long periods on surfaces like toilets. Anyone coughing or sneezing on their hands and then touching a toilet can transfer those pneumonia-causing germs to others using the toilet later. Then all it takes is a rub of the nose or touching food (say, a sandwich) for a germy hand to lead to infection.

Luckily, studies show that handwashing with soap can reduce the incidence of diarrheal diseases by more than half and acute respiratory infections like pneumonia by roughly a quarter. A seemingly simple solution for such enormous impact.

But for many parts of the world without ready access to clean water, handwashing isn’t very simple at all. That’s why the global health community’s activities under the Integrated Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrheal Disease are so important for making sanitation, hygiene, and good health accessible for everyone under a united pneumonia and diarrhea prevention strategy.

At first glance, pneumonia and toilets may not seem to fit on the same plate, but sandwiched side by side as they are this week, their common link to sanitation interventions puts their natural pairing in a clearer light. As we leave World Pneumonia Day behind and look toward World Toilet Day, let’s remember that these events are not mutually exclusive. They’re linked by a goal of saving lives and are opportunities to advocate for ways to leverage common resources toward that end—across diseases, across interventions, and across the table.

If you have room on your plate, a few other cross-cutting interventions might tempt your palette. Nutrition, vaccines, and breastfeeding are other overlapping tools to address diarrhea and pneumonia. Advocating for the full menu of integrated solutions can help save children’s lives faster. So keep spreading the word. Not only this week, but year-round.

Just some food for thought.

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submitted by Mark Alderson
11/12/2015 at 11:45

Together, pneumonia and diarrhea kill more children under the age of five each year than any other infectious disease. Luckily, a number of prevention and treatment solutions (like vaccine delivery systems, handwashing/sanitation, antibiotics, and exclusive breastfeeding) can be applied to both, warranting an approach that leverages common resources to fight them in an integrated way. The Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhea is the roadmap for doing just that. This post originally appeared on the PATH blog. Photo credit: PATH/Doune Porter.


Fifteen years ago, roughly two million children under age five died from pneumonia annually. Today, that number is down by more than half thanks to improved prevention and treatment interventions and their growing presence in traditionally underserved countries.

Despite this progress, pneumonia still kills more children than any other infectious disease, especially in the developing world. Why? Because it is a complex disease with many causes and the tools to fight it are still not equitably accessible. To finish the job, we must harness an integrated array of solutions (vaccines, treatments, clean air, nutrition, and diagnostics) that can hit pneumonia from multiple angles.

Here’s my list of five particularly exciting solutions that are vital for enhancing the fight against pneumonia and overcoming systemic barriers that inhibit children from getting the prevention and care they need.

There are vaccines on the horizon that hold great promise to protect against all pneumococcal strains. Photo: PATH/Heng Chivoan.

1. Vaccines to provide broad protection

Vaccines against the leading cause of severe childhood pneumonia—pneumococcus—are effective against a number of the bacterium’s many varieties, but not all. They are also too expensive for many countries to afford without substantial donor assistance. By design, they’re doing their job, but what if a vaccine could provide affordable protection against all pneumococcal strains? The good news is vaccines designed to do just this are on the horizon. Public-private partnerships are advancing the development of vaccines that hold the promise to potentially change the pneumococcal prevention game.


 Dr. Amy Ginsburg demonstrates a user-friendly application for mobile phones and tablets called mPneumonia that aims to help health care providers detect and manage pneumonia. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

2. Technologies to diagnose and treat low oxygen levels

By afflicting the lungs, pneumonia can result in fatal oxygen deficiency. A pulse oximeter is the gold standard for non-invasively diagnosing this deficiency; easily and painlessly clips on a finger or other extremity to measure blood oxygen levels; and can inform the best use of lifesaving oxygen treatments. In low-income countries, however, supply, policy, training, and cost hurdles make pulse oximetry and oxygen scarce resources, particularly for children. Investing in creative ways to address the challenges (like mobile phone applications or alternative energy for pulse oximetry) is critical for expanding use.



Fast-dissolving tablets are an easy and cost-effective way to administer antibiotics to children. Photos: PATH/Patrick McKern.

3. Child-friendly antibiotics ideal for low-resource settings

The recommended first-line treatment for childhood pneumonia is the antibiotic amoxicillin. In its traditional forms, it’s difficult to use in the harsh conditions of many low-resource countries because of factors like heat and light sensitivity and the need for precise measurement. In these settings, amoxicillin dispersible tablets are a better option, particularly for children who can’t swallow pills. They have a longer shelf-life, are cost-effective, don’t need refrigeration, and are easy to administer because the tablets quickly disperse in clean water or breastmilk. Their lack of availability in countries where most needed, however, underscores the urgency of resolving barriers to access so these tablets can be put to work.


Cleaner-burning fuels can reduce indoor air pollution, which causes 4.3 million deaths—of which 12 percent are children with respiratory infections like pneumonia. Photo: PATH/Heng Chivoan.

4. Clean household fuels to clear the air

Nearly three billion people use coal, wood, and crop residue for cooking, but the smoke these fuels produce can cause serious illness. Indoor air pollution causes 4.3 million deaths of which 12 percent are children with respiratory infections like pneumonia. Clean-burning fuel like liquid-petroleum gas is a potential solution, but is often too costly for poor, rural communities. However, there are interventions streamlining supply chains, providing consumer financing, and using direct marketing to bring clean fuel into more households, but further investment is needed to maximize reach.


Thanks to a thriving human milk bank, an infant receives donor breastmilk in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mahila Chikitsalaya Government Hospital in Jaipur, India. Photo: PATH/Tom Furtwangler.

5. Human milk banking to protect vulnerable infants

Exclusive breastfeeding provides infants with the nutrients and hydration they need; prevents exposure to contaminated food and water that cause deadly illnesses like diarrhea; and confers protective antibodies against many illnesses, including pneumonia (a particularly dangerous infection for newborns). When infants don’t have access to their own mother’s milk, donor breastmilk is the next best thing. Human milk banks are an innovative solution that gives otherwise deprived infants access to safe donated breastmilk—and a chance to thrive.

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