HAMILTON, Canada, Aug 26 (IPS) – Understanding the scale and intensity of the COVID-19 virus and its emerging variants, predicting the direction of the pandemic, and developing and refining associated management response options are challenges likely to face public health officials and national authorities. governments around the world in the future.
The capacity of diagnostic tests for COVID-19 varies widely from country to country and is often insufficient. Hospital admissions can delay infections for several weeks, and asymptomatic or mild cases go unreported.
A diagnostic option that is gaining more and more attention and application: the detection of COVID-19 in community and urban wastewater.
Wastewater monitoring for COVID-19 offers near real-time information on the extent of the virus’s presence among large numbers of people and can reveal the community’s transmission trajectory – up or down.
Sewers provide an early warning system for COVID-19 outbreaks. Wastewater with higher concentrations of the virus corresponds to a higher number of infected people. Compared to routine testing of individuals, wastewater testing is not only less invasive and simpler, it requires fewer resources, equipment and trained professionals.
Detecting viruses in a community in this way has been practiced since the early 1990s, when extensive sewage surveillance supported efforts to eradicate polio. Such experience over the years has proven that monitoring wastewater for traces of pathogens is a reliable and effective disease surveillance technique.
Armies of researchers with increased pandemic funding around the world have continued to monitor wastewater since the WHO first COVID-19 alarms last year.
A Google search on “COVID and wastewater” shows more than 53 million results, and Google Scholar reveals around 20,000 publications on the subject, a third of which have been produced since early 2021.
An expert article this year proposed an archived time series of urban wastewater samples as a record of pandemics and other features of the evolving Anthropocene – an invaluable resource for future anthropologists.
Most of the success stories in monitoring COVID-19 in wastewater and sewage sludge have come from developed countries. In the developing world, however, the situation is very different. Unfortunately, around 90% of the wastewater generated in low-income developing countries is not even collected; it is released into the environment without treatment. In lower middle-income countries, about 57% of wastewater is not collected.
Wastewater monitoring for COVID-19 allows for timely preventive and adaptation actions, which would help developing countries immensely. However, the ‘dirty secret’ in many such countries is that wastewater is not treated in the environment – it often enters freshwater bodies through hidden or visible pipes, for example. or contaminate groundwater. The safe monitoring, collection, treatment and reuse or disposal of wastewater is essential to protect human health and the absence of such practices results in massive water pollution. Unfortunately, it also creates a missed opportunity for near real-time disease surveillance, depriving about half of the world’s population of the benefits of a rapid response to COVID-19 outbreaks, with similar virus-induced diseases and pandemics. planned.
The international disparity of these pathogen early warning systems is a wake-up call for the world as a whole, which aims to halve the volumes of untreated wastewater by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal SDG , 6.3.1 of the 2030 World Sustainable Development Agenda).
Six years after the start of the SDG era, the assessment of the state of wastewater treatment at the national level reveals a grim scenario in low-income and lower-middle-income countries, which are far from d ” meet the wastewater treatment and safe reuse target agreed in 2015.
With more frequent pandemic-like situations expected in the years to come, a radical overhaul is badly needed, and effective wastewater management and monitoring must be put in place in developing countries to protect our environment and countless lives.
The establishment of networks for the collection and transport of wastewater and the construction of wastewater treatment plants equipped with near real-time diagnostic systems for diseases such as COVID-19 are essential to improve human health in developing countries. low income and lower middle income. Other tactics include implementing effluent standards and providing incentives for households and industrial sectors.
Beyond extending these disease early warning systems globally, efficient collection and management of wastewater in developing countries would provide significant resources to offset costs. Wastewater is a source of valuable water, nutrients, precious metals and energy.
It would also support food production, livelihoods, ecosystems, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and sustainable development.
By all accounts, the investment required to properly manage wastewater globally is paltry compared to the multidimensional benefits available.
Manzoor Qadir is Deputy Director of the Canadian Institute for Water, Environment and Health at the United Nations University, which is supported by the Government of Canada and hosted at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. The Institute is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service