The Health Equity Blog’s mission is to contribute to the discussion of health policy using evidence and research, to explore the opportunities for health equity through policy change, to raise awareness about health disparities, and to increase public advocacy for health equality.

According to the CDC, “Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to ‘attain his or her full health potential’ and no one is ‘disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.’”

Achievement of full health potential is necessary in all aspects of life – from running errands to relationships with loved ones. Some people are born into environments that limit their ability to achieve their full health potential. We believe that because society created many health inequalities, society can also fix them.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Water = Life

Early on Thursday, residents of Charleston, West Virginia began to notice a licorice smell in the air because of a chemical spill in the Elk River. Since then, nearly 300,000 people have been unable to use their tap water for fear of being exposed 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical used to process coal that can cause skin and eye irritation, nausea and vomiting.  Though experts say that the chemical isn’t lethal, they admit to not knowing much about the chemical and it’s effects on people’s health.  
Thankfully, the National Guard and other emergency aid agencies have been able to distribute bottled water to residents of the affected counties.  However, there has been some worry about price gouging to the point that the State Attorney General encouraged citizens to report anything they noticed.  Many West Virginia residents are frustrated with the situation as well as the company that spilled the chemical and rightly so. Citizens in West Virginia are undoubtedly suffering because of this chemical spill.  Not only those who have been exposed to the toxin and gotten sick because of it, but also the wage workers in the counties that have been shut down.  Many people in the service industry (like waiters) are out of work until restaurants, hotels, and stores open again.  These tend to be the people who can least afford to go without wages.

The Benefits of Clean Water

We in the United States often take water for granted.  Most of us have never experienced a drought, a disaster that cuts off water, or a chemical spill like the one in the Elk River.  Getting the water we need has always been a simple matter of turning on a faucet, so we don’t always appreciate how important water is for life.  We need water …

1.) to live - water plays an essential part in the work our cells do to keep us alive which is why people can generally only survive 3 days without water.
2.) for sanitation purposes - without an adequate water supply, sanitation suffers and disease spreads.
3.) for personal hygiene - think about it - showers, hand washing and brushing your teeth all require water.

When people don’t drink enough water, the health consequences are myriad - from headaches, constipation, and kidney stones to dehydration (which means you don’t have enough fluid to get blood to your organs).  If you have to drink unclear water you could suffer non-fatal issues like those in West Virginia or you could contract a water borne illness like dysentery and hepatitis A.

Who Doesn’t Have Access to Clean Water

It is estimated that currently 1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water and that each year 3.4 million people die because of it (Water Facts - Water.org).  Most of the people without access to clean water live in Africa and the Middle East which not only compromises their health, but also keeps them from rising out of poverty.  This is especially true in Africa, where many people (mostly women) have to walk 3 hours both ways to collect unclean water for their families.  “The United Nations estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water; that's the same as a whole year's worth of labor by France's entire workforce!” (Poverty In Africa Begins With A Lack of Clean Water)

What Can We Take From the West Virginia Water Crisis

As with most things, we can use this disaster to do something positive.  Below are some ideas on how to do so.

1.) Finally get your 3 day  to 2 week supply of water that FEMA recommends in case of emergencies
2.) Start conserving water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, not throwing away water, shortening your showers, etc

3.) Donate to organizations that help people around the world without access to clean water.  The Water Project is a good one.

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