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 that will face public health officials and national governments worldwide well into the future.
Diagnostic testing capacity for COVID-19 varies widely by country to the country and is often insufficient. Hospital admissions can be weeks behind in infections and asymptomatic or mild cases are not reported.
One diagnostic option is attracting increasing attention and application: detection of COVID-19 in municipal and urban wastewater.
Monitoring wastewater for COVID-19 provides near real-time insights in the magnitude of the presence of the virus among a large number of people, and can reveal the community’s transmission path – ascending or descending.
Sewers provide an early warning system for COVID-19 outbreaks. Wastewater with higher concentrations of the virus corresponds to higher numbers of infected people. Compared to systematic testing of individuals, wastewater analysis is not only less invasive and simpler, it is also requires fewer resources, equipment and skilled professionals.
Detecting viruses in a community in this way has been practiced since the early 1990s, when it expanded wastewater monitoring 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.
A Google search of “COVID and wastewater” returns over 53 million results, and Google Scholar reveals about 20,000 publications about this has produced a third of them since early 2021.
One expert this year’s paper proposed an archived time series of urban sewage samples as an account of pandemics and other features of the evolving Anthropocene – an invaluable resource for future anthropologists.
Most success stories of COVID-19 surveillance in wastewater and sewage sludge come from developed countries. In the developing world, however, the picture is very different. Unfortunately, about 90% of the wastewater produced in low-income developing countries is not even collected; it ends up in the environment untreated. In low-middle-income countries, about 57% of waste water is not collected.
Monitoring wastewater for COVID-19 enables timely preventive and coping measures, which would greatly help developing countries. the “dirty secretHowever, in many such countries, wastewater enters the environment untreated – often entering freshwater bodies, for example, through hidden or visible pipes or contaminating groundwater. waste water monitoring, collection, treatment and safe reuse or disposal is essential for the protection of human health and the lack of such practices leads to: huge 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 timely response to outbreaks of COVID-19, with similar virus-induced illnesses and pandemics.
The international disparity in these pathogen early warning systems is a wake-up call for the world as a whole, which aims to halve the amounts of untreated wastewater by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal SDG, 6.3.1 of the 2030 global sustainability agenda).
Six years into the SDG era, the assessment of waste water treatment status at national level reveals a bleak scenario in low-income and low-middle-income countries, which are a long way from achieving wastewater treatment and target for safe reuse agreed in 2015.
With more often pandemic-like situations expected in the coming years, a radical rethink is urgently needed and efficient wastewater management and control needs to be introduced in developing countries to protect our environment and countless lives.
Setting up wastewater collection and transport networks and building wastewater treatment plants equipped with near-real-time diagnostic systems for diseases such as COVID-19 are the key to improvement human health in low-income and low-middle-income countries. Other tactics include implementing wastewater standards and offering incentives to households and industrial sectors.
Past expanding these early warning systems for diseases worldwide, effective wastewater collection and management in developing countries would provide important means of offsetting costs. Wastewater is a source of valuable water, nutrients, precious metals and energy.
From every point of view, the investment required to properly manage wastewater globally pales in comparison to the multidimensional benefits available.
Manzoor Qadir is deputy director of the United Nations University’s Canadian Institute of Water, Environment and Health, which is supported by the Government of Canada and hosted at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. The Institute is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
© Inter Press Service (2021) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service