Health Committee

BMUN 5 Health Committee Briefing

1.      The Question of Waterborne Diseases


Waterborne diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms transmitted through contaminated water. The pathogens can be transferred to humans via drinking, bathing and use of contaminated water for food preparation. Examples of diseases caused in this way include botulism, E. coli, Legionnaires’ disease and dysentery, as well as many other potentially fatal diseases.

Key Facts:

  • The WHO report that over 3.4m people die per year from waterborne diseases.
  • Around 4 in 10 (or 1bn) people globally do not have clean water to drink.
  • Every 20 seconds, a child dies due to a water-related illness. Two years ago this was every 15 seconds, so improvements are being made.
  • 50% of hospital beds in the world are filled by patients with waterborne diseases.
  • 4% of global disease could be prevented by better sanitation and water provisions.

Background Information:

From these statistics you can see that this issue is highly urgent. However, it is also evident that changes have been made and that the situation has been improving in recent years.

Organisations which implement these changes include:

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund)
  • Various independent charities, including WaterAid

In particular, the WHO has recently set up the sub-group GLAAS (Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water). This organisation uses data from 74 developing countries, including all the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) regions to provide 90% of official advice on the topic of water sanitation. Its most recent report was published earlier this year, and states that although “major gains have been made, with the MDG drinking-water target being met in 2010, challenges remain to reduce disparities and to increase sanitation coverage”.

Earlier this year, the WHO unanimously accepted Resolution 64/24 on Drinking water, sanitation and Health, the first of its kind to be proposed to the organisation for over 20 years. It outlined strategies for achieving the MDG targets set for 2015, and urged the formulation of a new WHO strategy for monitoring water quality. Similarly, the Assembly also adopted Resolution 64/15 specifically targeting cholera, the most prevalent waterborne disease.

Useful Links:

Questions to Consider:

  1. What is the water sanitation like in your country?
  2. What is the rate of death from waterborne disease in your country?
  3. If your country is not affected by these diseases regularly, have there been certain outbreaks to note (e.g. Legionnaires’ disease in Edinburgh, June 2012), and how has your country coped with it? Could these methods be used in other nations?
  4. How is your country involved in improving the global water sanitation level, and what suggestions do you have to further improve the situation?

2.      The Question of Preventing the Spread of Superbugs


A superbug is defined as a disease left untreatable due to the strain of bacteria which causes it becoming resistant to one or more antibiotics that would usually destroy it. The most common superbug is MRSA, but C. diff. is also prevalent in society globally.

Key Facts:

  • It is not known exactly how many bacteria are resistant to one or more antibiotic. However, there is evidence to suggest it is on the rise, meaning developing further drugs to combat these diseases is a high priority.
  • Any disease which has become resistant to one or more antibiotic could be called a Superbug. This therefore includes Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, a disease rife in the developing world.
  • Some Superbugs fall into the category of Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs), including MRSA. These tend to dominate the developed world.
  • Deaths in the UK from MRSA have fallen 38% since 2009.
  • Around 99,000 deaths each year in the USA are caused by or contributed to by HAIs.

Background Information:

Unlike waterborne diseases, the Superbugs we tend to hear about are a group of diseases which plague primarily the developed world. The WHO have not yet adopted any Resolutions on the issue, but a practical guidebook was released in 2002, which outlined possible ways of preventing the spread of HAIs, including the launch of both national and regional programmes and setting up infection control committees within hospitals. Crucially, the guidebook also deals with events of outbreak within a community or hospital. However, since 2002, it is clear that cases of Superbugs have remained fairly high despite a significant fall in case deaths in the UK. Does this indicate fewer cases altogether, or better survival of the diseases?

All these diseases have come about due to inadequate usage of current antibiotics, unaided by the ability of these bacteria to rapidly evolve. This poses a real threat for the future inevitably the bacteria will evolve faster than the global pharmaceutical industry.

Useful Links:

Questions to Consider :

  • Does your country have a high instance of HAI?
  • Has your country had any major outbreaks of an HAI recently, and how has it dealt with it? Could these methods be used in other nations?
  • If you represent a developing nation, what is its status regarding MDR-TB? How could the spread of this be prevented in a nation with poor general sanitation?