Sanitation pioneer praised by African governments for life-saving work over 3 decades

July 22, 2011

Professor Sandy Cairncross has received a unique honour from the governments of Africa in recognition of his major contribution to improving the health and well-being of Africans through his three decades of work to improve sanitation and hygiene across the continent. He was awarded the Roll of Honour Award for lifetime service in Kigali, Rwanda, at a ceremony hosted by Rwanda's President Paul Kagame.

The commendation reflects his tireless efforts to saving lives in some of the world's poorest countries. His greatest achievements include his pioneering work on the health impacts of poor sanitation and hygiene, his instrumental role in the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme, and designing a revolutionary latrine slab in Mozambique.

Cairncross, Professor of Environmental Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was handed the award on 20 July during AfricaSan - the continent's foremost conference on sanitation and hygiene. The decision to grant the commendation to Cairncross was made by members of the African Ministerial Council on Water. The award comes just a month after Cairncross received an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for saving countless lives in the developing world.

Cairncross' passion for Africa emerged in the mid-1970s when he worked on water supplies in Lesotho, Southern Africa. He has carried out research and environmental health projects across Africa, Asia and Latin America, including seven years as a water and sanitation engineer for the Government of Mozambique. While working in Mozambique he helped design and market a hygienic and easy-to-use revolutionary and lightweight pit latrine slab, with over 300,000 slabs being sold subsequently.

He later worked in West Africa to support programmes to eradicate Guinea Worm disease - a parasitic infection spread by contaminated drinking water. Cairncross played a critical role in the fight to eradicate this debilitating disease from more than 3.5 million cases in 1986 to just 3,000 cases in 2009. Throughout his career, Cairncross has worked extensively with African governments and international agencies, including UNICEF and WaterAid. He currently leads the Environmental Health Group and Hygiene Centre at LSHTM, and is the Research Director for the SHARE Consortium - a five-year initiative on sanitation and hygiene funded by the UK government.

Cairncross added: "This award is particularly precious to me but it reflects the work of others too. Ensuring everyone has access to the basic services of sanitation and water requires a concerted global effort, and my work in Africa has always depended on the cooperation, commitment of my African colleagues and friends. It is a particular honour to receive the award here in Rwanda - a country that has demonstrated political commitment at the highest level and is now making real and impressive progress".
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Notes to editors

For more information or to interview Professor Sandy Cairncross contact Guy Collender, SHARE Policy and Communications Officer: guy.collender@lshtm.ac.uk , +44 (0) 20 7927 2301.

It is estimated that 780,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases in Africa, according to WaterAid. Diarrhoea kills more children in Africa than any other disease, but is almost entirely preventable with low cost measures such as safe drinking water, basic toilets and better hygiene.

Africa is off-track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target for sanitation. At current rates of progress, the target - to reduce by half those without access to adequate sanitation by 2015 - will not be met until 2084, according to WaterAid.

Cairncross is the Research Director of SHARE (Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity) - a consortium funded by the UK's Department for International Development. The initiative aims to accelerate progress on sanitation and hygiene in developing countries by generating rigorous and relevant research, and ensuring new and existing solutions are adopted at scale. SHARE's focus countries are Malawi, Tanzania, Bangladesh and India. For more information visit www.shareresearch.org .

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

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