Woman administering

Oral Rehydration Treatment (ORT) to child

A landmark study: In 1992 and 1993, IHO with help of health experts from Harvard University conducted a series of surveys examining the socioeconomic, health and environmental conditions in the rural region of Bihar, one of the poorest areas of India. Problems were found in every sector – from health & development to education & employment. Based upon a thorough analysis of the survey results, Bihar’s demographics and prevailing government policies, we concluded that the majority of illnesses in the area were caused by contaminated water and food, poor hygiene and lack of sanitation facilities.

The resultant high incidence of diarrheal, zoonotic and other water-borne diseases were one of the principal causes of increased mortality among infants and children and the loss of productivity among adults.

As a result, IHO decided to make the control of water-borne diseases, through the provision of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, accompanied by training in proper hygiene the backbone of its public health mission in South Asia. Other subsequent IHO public health programs were integrated with this foundation and build upon it.

An action plan for the state of Bihar: Based on the conclusions of its study, IHO then designed and implemented series of realistic, long-term environmental health and development projects that addressed each of the health problems found. This model of rural health has now become IHO’s model successfully implemented elsewhere in Asia and Africa.

To start with, IHO donors in the United States and India provided the initial seed money, resources and technology for the program. Then IHO formed a group of volunteers made up of South Asian expatriates, U.S. citizens, local experts and NGOs to work with the people living in rural communities in Bihar. These volunteers trained some of the women of the community as health educators who then went out and trained others in health and proper hygiene techniques. This enabled the women from the local community to prevent the contamination of their water source and maintain a healthy living environment. We call this our “self-help” model for community development. Our rural health model comprised of providing hand pumps for water and sanitation, health education through women educators, and thence adding mother-and-child health programs. Our self-help model provides ongoing education and support in a way that is cost-effective and perfectly suited to the local culture and environment.

Group outside IHO’s health center in Bihar

In summary: The underlying theme of IHO programs is that improved environmental health is the most basic need of rural, underdeveloped communities and that its two components – community health and community development – are interdependent and need to be focused upon concurrently and equally.

We have proven over the last 25 years that our integrated and holistic health program that combines clean water and sanitation facilities with health, hygiene and vocational training is transferable to rural communities in many developing countries. Details of our initial findings have been presented and discussed at several national and international meetings, including several annual conferences of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in the United States and the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) in Indonesia since 1992 itself!

Current status & future goals: IHO currently runs its programs in more than six states in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and other developing countries in Asia and Africa. By 2025, we aim to implement our program in most of the developing countries. Our goal is keep our programs self-sustaining aided by a large  pool of volunteers.