The battle for safe water and sanitation is not over in Europe: experts meet for WaSH in schools

Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Hungary

Inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) conditions in schools, which are still of concern across the Region,  are detrimental to a healthy learning environment. To tackle this issue, the 1st Expert group meeting on WaSH in schools was held on 16-17 April 2015 in Budapest. 

Experts from Member States' health and education sectors as well as other partners, such as UNICEF, nongovernmental organizations and development agencies, discussed evidence, progress and needs to improve WaSH in schools under the Protocol on Water and Health. 

This meeting was hosted by Hungarian Office of the Chief Medical Officer and jointly organized by the WHO/Europe and WHO Country Office in Hungary. 

WaSH in schools – the way forward

During the meeting participants stressed that leadership and involvement of the education sector is a critical factor of success. They also highlighted the need to involve pupils at all levels and to take their perceptions and needs into account. This may also help overcoming some taboos related to talking about toilets and menstrual hygiene management. Safe WaSH was recognized as a precondition for other health interventions such as nutrition, oral hygiene and deworming.

Setting national targets under the Protocol, which addresses WaSH in schools, were reported to be effective to enhance national policies and programmes.

Experts reviewed available evidence in Europe on WaSH in schools and advised on the development of practical tools for surveillance and school management along with advocacy paper for policy-makers.

Protocol on Water and Health

The Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes is the main policy instrument to improve health throughout the WHO European Region through more equitable access to safe water and sanitation services. The 5th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health  in 2010 emphasized the need to provide every child with safe water and sanitation by 2020. The 2014-2016 programme of work under the Protocol gives priority to promote WaSH in schools. Hungary and Georgia lead to coordinate these activities.