Updated 20 March 2015

What kills more women than Aids and breast cancer? Dirty water

Nearly 800 000 women die every year because they lack access to safe toilets and clean water, according to researchers.


Diseases spread through dirty water and poor sanitation are the fifth biggest killer of women worldwide, causing more deaths than Aids, diabetes or breast cancer, researchers say.

Nearly 800 000 women die every year because they lack access to safe toilets and clean water, said the development organisation WaterAid, which analysed data from the Seattle-based Institute of Health Metrics research center.

"This completely unacceptable situation affects women and girls' education, their health, their dignity and ultimately, in too many cases, results in an early and needless death," WaterAid CEO Barbara Frost said in a statement.

Read: Gorilla origins found in human Aids virus lineages

The only conditions more fatal for women than the lack of decent sanitation are heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the report.

More than 1 billion women, or one in three women around the world, do not have access to a safe, private toilet, while 370 million - one in 10 - do not have access to clean water, according to WaterAid.

More than 2 billion people gained access to clean water between 1990 and 2012, but nearly 750 million still lack what the United Nations recognizes as a human right.

Read: Cancer is emerging as a major public health problem in SA

Dirty water and poor sanitation are at the root of problems such as maternal and child mortality, and sexual violence.

Many women in developing countries give birth at home without access to clean water, exposing themselves and their babies to infections.

Without safe toilets, women and girls have to venture outdoors to relieve themselves, often at night, putting them at risk of sexual harassment and assault.

Moreover, in many poor countries fetching water is considered the responsibility of women and girls, who spend hours each day trekking to and from wells, keeping them from attending school or caring for their families.

Also read:

Why Clive Rice is going to Bangalore for brain cancer treatment

Take the sugar test. It could save your life

5 myths about HIV/Aids


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules