Wastewater based epidemiology as a public health resource in low- and middle-income settings

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In the face of emerging and re-emerging diseases, novel and innovative approaches to population scale surveillance are necessary for the early detection and quantification of pathogens.

The last decade has seen the rapid development of wastewater and environmental surveillance to address public health challenges, which has led to establishment of wastewater-based epidemiology approaches being deployed to monitor a range of health hazards.

Wastewater-based epidemiology exploits the fact that excretions and secretions from urine, and from the gut are discharged in wastewater, particularly sewage, such that sampling sewage systems provides an early warning system for disease outbreaks by providing an early indication of pathogen circulation.

While wastewater-based epidemiology has been mainly used in locations with networked wastewater systems, a new study, published in Environmental Pollution (Apr 2024), considers its value for less connected populations typical of lower-income settings, and assesses the opportunity afforded by pit latrines to sample communities and localities.

The authors of the study propose that where populations struggle to access health and diagnostic facilities, and despite several additional challenges, sampling unconnected wastewater systems remains an important means to monitor the health of large populations in a relatively cost-effective manner.

Hamilton, K.A., Wade, M.J., Barnes, K.G., Street, R.A. and Paterson, S. 2024. Wastewater based epidemiology as a public health resource in low- and middle-income settings. Environmental Pollution 351: 124045.

Photo: Agriculture on the banks of the Ganges River (IWMI/Neil Palmer)

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